Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Will Belgium Survive?

All states are artificial constructs and Belgium is no exception. In recent elections the New Flemish Alliance , a separatist party, received substantial support and calls into question the continued existence of Belgium as one country. SOYMB re-publishes a 2008 Socialist Standard article on just that subject.

Belgium is a patently artificial state inhabited by people speaking two different languages. It survived for many years with one of them (French) as the dominant language because it was the language of the ruling class. Now that this has ceased to be the case, and Dutch (Flemish) has also become a language of a part of the capitalist class as well as of the state, Belgium is beginning to show signs of coming apart at the seams. Revision of the constitution — How much autonomy should the regions be given? Should or should not Belgium become a federal state? How far out should the limits of Brussels (basically a French-speaking city surrounded by Dutch-speaking communes) go? — has become an issue preventing other issues being dealt with.

Belgium is a state which the then Great Powers allowed to be set up in 1830. Before that the territory that is now Belgium had formed part, first, of the territories of the King of Spain, then of those of the Emperor of Austria. After the French Revolution Belgium became, in 1792, part of France and remained so until after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. While part of France the Napoleonic code of law, which swept away feudal remnants, was introduced and manufacturing industry began to develop in the South. This, together with strategic considerations, was one of the main reasons why in 1815 Belgium was detached from France: not only were the frontiers of France to be moved further back from the Rhine, but France was also to be deprived of a nascent industrial base. Belgium became part of a kind of Belgian-Dutch federation under King William of Holland.

In 1830, in what Belgian history books refer to as a "national revolution", the wealthy classes of Belgium broke away from those of Holland and set up an independent State. Though Holland protested, the Great Powers let this change happen as it still left the territory of Belgium detached from France.
The circumstances which led to the establishment of Belgium are worth recalling in that they have shaped the Belgian political scene to this day. Holland was essentially a trading and agricultural country and as such its ruling groups tended to favour free trade. The nascent industrial capitalist class in the south of Belgium, however, wanted tariff walls as a protection against British competition. The Dutch government did make some moves to accommodate them but not enough. In the end the Belgian capitalists decided to break away. This was not too difficult in view of the loose, almost federal character of the Belgian-Dutch State; in addition, the population of Belgium was greater than that of Holland. But the nascent Belgian capitalist class in the South needed support in the Dutch-speaking Northern part of the territory. This they managed to do, despite being French-speaking and anti-clerical in the tradition of the French Revolution, by an opportunist alliance with the Catholic Church over the schools issue. The Dutch government wanted to introduce a system of universal state education. The Catholic Church, (the majority religion in Belgium, unlike Holland which was a Protestant State),vehemently opposed this, insisting on its exclusive right to "educate" Catholic children.

The capitalists got their state. The Belgian constitution of 1831 was a model of bourgeois-liberal government. Power was in the hands of a parliament elected only by wealthy property-owners; the king (a minor German princeling imported specially to fill the post) was a mere figurehead. Their language, French, became the official language of the new State, despite the fact that a majority of people in its territory spoke Dutch.

But there was a price to pay: the power of the Catholic Church, and its control of its own schools, had to be respected. From a short-term point of view, the lack of a modern education system had certain advantages for the Belgian capitalists: they were able to extract very long hours of work for very low rates of pay, to such an extent that Marx once described Belgium as “a capitalists' paradise”.

The industrialisation of Belgium, apart from Antwerp and Ghent in the Dutch-speaking North, almost exclusively in Wallonia, the French-speaking Southern part, brought into existence an industrial working class and, inevitably, working class attempts at political and industrial organisation. A Belgian Labour Party (Parti Ouvrier Belge) was set up in 1885, along the same lines as was later the British Labour Party except that the co-operatives rather than the trade unions provided the bulk of the members and funds. A deliberate decision was taken not to call it the “Belgian Socialist Party" on the grounds that the word "socialist" was unacceptable to many workers. With a start like this, the POB was destined for a pitiful career of gradualism and reformism. The POB was never really even a social-democratic party in the sense that the German SPD was; it never accepted Marxism as its ideology; in fact it had a contempt for theory altogether, concentrating on trying to get piecemeal social reforms for the working class; it was in short a simple "Labour" party.

In its early years the POB was at least militant on one issue of importance to the working class: the right to vote. The general strike of 1893, which forced the Belgian parliament to extend a vote to adult males, was a magnificent episode in the history of the Belgian working class. The strike did not achieve "one man, one vote", since the rich and educated were given more than one vote, but it did force the members of the Belgian parliament, in which there was not a single POB representative, to do what most of them were opposed to: grant a vote to adult (male) workers. Later strikes to try to get plural voting abolished were less successful, but by then the POB had its own members of parliament and had begun to get involved in parliamentary manoeuvres with its new-found allies, the radical bourgeois Liberals.

In fact the Belgian Labourites tended to be, at this time the tail-end or left-wing of the Liberal party. After more than twenty years of Catholic party rule, the Belgian Liberals were feeling left out in the cold, but they realised they were unlikely to get power again without support from the POB. Accordingly, in preparation for the 1910 election they launched a great anti-clerical campaign and attempted to get the leaders of the POB involved. This was easy, as the POB leaders were anticlerical themselves (and indeed many were freemasons). It is quite clear that had the occasion arose (which it didn't, because the Catholic party won the election) the POB would have supported a Liberal administration and would probably have gone so far as to have formed an anti-clerical coalition with them. This no doubt would have caused a stir in the Second International, to which the POB was affiliated along with other Labour and Social-Democratic parties. After the First World War, of course, all the Social-Democratic parties were prepared to take power within capitalism and accept responsibility for running it, but it is a measure of the depth of the reformism of the POB that they would have been prepared to do this in 1910 when their fellow reformists still had some doubts.

The Belgian Liberals were, by and large, French-speaking and anticlerical. As in practice their leftwing, the POB shared these characteristics, with unfortunate results for the development of the Belgian trade union movement, which took place mainly after the founding of the POB and partly under its auspices. As the industrial centre of Belgium was in the French-speaking South it was natural that the trade union movement should be strongest there, but it was by no means inevitable that this movement should have been dominated by an anti-clerical political party, thus cutting itself off from workers of catholic origin.

It would be wrong to put the entire blame on the POB for the present split in the Belgian trade union movement into two main groups, each with about a million members: the Labourite Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique and the self-explanatory Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens (which is in fact the larger). The Catholic Church shares an equal blame; they combatted the POB before the first world war by organising rival co-operatives, sick clubs — and trade unions. Their trade unions didn't have much success before the first world war, but grew rapidly between the wars as industrialization spread to the Northern part of Belgium. Employers preferred to deal with the less militant Catholic unions than with the “socialist” unions and their talk of the class struggle. But the Catholic unions also took up a very real grievance which the Labourite unions tended to neglect: the position of the Dutch language, spoken by workers in the North of Belgium.

French was the official language of Belgium after 1830. It was the language of the State and, even in the Dutch-speaking area, the language of the bourgeoisie. Thus in Northern Belgium a Dutch-speaking working class faced a French-speaking capitalist class. The Labourite unions, perhaps for the very good reason of not wishing to split the working class on linguistic lines, did not chose to exploit this situation, but it was taken up to some extent by the Catholic unions.

Today there is virtually no difference except in ideology — the FGTB is, on paper, committed to "the disappearance of the wages system”, while the CSC denounces the class struggle— between the two rival trade union groups. In practice both act as pure-and-simple, bread-and-butter unions negotiating over wages and conditions of work; on the political field their leaders are reformists, being supporters either of the Belgian Socialist Party (as, unfortunately for us genuine socialists, the POB has been called since 1945) or of the catholic political party.

The other great division in the Belgian working class besides the catholic/anti-clerical one is of course language. As stated, despite being the minority language, French was made the official language of the Belgian State set up in 1830. Dutch in fact has only been given completely equal status with French since 1932. Since the last world war the centre of economic gravity in Belgium has tended to shift from Wallonia, the French-speaking South, to Flanders, the Dutch-speaking North, and the numerical superiority of Dutch-speakers has began to make itself felt on the political scene.

The man who must share a great responsibility for side-tracking the French-speaking part of the Belgian working class on the language issue was a militant trade union leader in the Liège engineering industry, André Renard, who died in 1962 and who is still something of a myth for many militant trade unionists in Belgium, Towards the end of the grande grève, the general strike of 1960-1 over the government's attempt to cut workers’ living standards, Renard suddenly introduced the quite unrelated political issue of "federalism". Claiming that the workers in the French-speaking south, where the strike was virtually solid, had been betrayed by the Dutch-speakers in the North (where the Catholic unions, following a lead given by Cardinal Van Roey in his Christmas message, urged their members to stay at work), Renard argued that if Wallonia had the power to pass its own laws on economic matters it would be able to carry out various "anti-capitalist structural reforms". He called for Belgium to be converted into a loose federation which would give Wallonia this power, virtually a demand for independence of course. This demand, and the reformist strategy behind it was supported by both the so-called Communist Party (which, under proportional representation, had a handful of members of parliament) and the Trotskyists (including, conspicuously, their international leader, Ernest Mandel, who was from Belgium).

The effect of this appeal was to heighten language-consciousness amongst French-speakers. In the years that followed French-speaking federalist groups increased their representation in parliament. So, on the other side, did the Dutch-speaking federalists, organised in a series far right parties. Today, it is the Flemish federalists and separatists who have been making the running, reflecting the fact that Flemish capitalists don’ t want to continue to pay for the state benefits received by workers in Wallonia where heavy industry (coal, steel, engineering) has been considerably run down since Renard’s day.

That the working class in Belgium should be divided on linguistic lines is, from a socialist point of view a matter for regret, but it also confirms the correctness of our opposition to ''leftwing” groups in that they should be partly responsible for it.

Whether Belgium will eventually split up, or at least become a federal State of some sort, remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: this constitutional issue is of no consequence whatsoever for the working class of the area. Whatever the constitution it will be that of a capitalist State and the working class will remain propertyless sellers of labour-power to the minority who own and control the means of production.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Winstanley: a 17th Century Utopian Socialist

"Freeganism is often described as a recent phenomenon, but its premises date back at least to Gerrard Winstanley, a 17th-century English cloth seller...." writes Jake Halpern in his long article titled The Freegan Establishment. Socialists recognize that this is one way of surviving under capitalism, and although it can serve to draw attention to issues such as environmental degradation and poverty, freeganism does not offer a solution to these endemic problems. Socialists want a moneyless society, but living without money in the fashion of Winstanley or today's Freegans under capitalism, is not what we advocate.

Gerrard Winstanley's writings were only rediscovered in 1894 and even now not much is known about his life. He was probably born in Wigan in 1609 and later went to London where he eventually became a freeman of the Merchant Taylors' Company. By
1643, however, he was bankrupt and was forced to leave London to live on the land, at Cobham in Surrey. It was here, amidst the ferment of ideas stirred up by the Civil War between Parliament and Charles I (in which he wholeheartedly supported the parliamentary side), that Winstanley developed radical ideas.

Basically, he held that the earth had originally been given to mankind by God to be held in common and that landlords were usurpers. He urged that the original common ownership and free use of the land be restored and proposed that a start should be made by allowing the landless poor (one of whom he now was) to use the commons at St. Georges Hill near Cobham; hence their name of "Diggers".

The Diggers did not parcel out the land amongst individuals, but worked it in common with the intention of later sharing in common the fruits of their joint labour. But they were never to enjoy these fruits; for right from the start they were harassed by the local landlords: they were taken to Court for trespass, their goods were seized, their houses pulled down and their crops destroyed. While this was going on Winstanley wrote a number of pamphlets putting the Diggers' case. Later, in 1651, he decided to put their views into systematic form; the result was The Law of Freedom in a Platform, addressed to Cromwell, that appeared the following year. This proposed a communistic - and democratic, with annually elected officials and councils - society without buying and selling or money, to be established first on the commons and on the lands seized from the King, the bishops and royalists but with the eventual aim of embracing the whole of England.

Unlike Sir Thomas More in his Utopia (which appeared in 1516 and which is more widely known among socialists), Winstanley was not painting a mere picture of an ideal society but was putting forward a practical programme for action. Needless to say, Cromwell did not take up his suggestions and Winstanley and his ideas disappeared into oblivion - we do not even 'know when Winstanley died.

There was in fact no reason, apart from the opposition of the landlords (including the new ones created under Cromwell by the sale of royal and episcopal lands), why Winstanley's ideas could not have been put into practice on a small scale. In the 19th century many colonies based on similar principles were to be established and to function for a while, especially in those parts of America where there were no landlords to sabotage them. Thus, in this sense, Winstanley can be said to be the first of the "utopian socialists" anticipating by over 150 years the projects of Fourier, Owen and Cabet.

We reproduce below an extensive passage from The Law of Freedom from which the extent to which Winstanley grasped that common ownership necessarily involves the disappearance of buying and selling and of money can be seen.

The Law of Freedom (1652)

The earth is to be planted and the fruits reaped and carried into barns and storehouses by the assistance of every family. And if any man or family want corn or other provision, they may go to the storehouses and fetch without money. If they want a horse to ride, go to the fields in summer, or to the common stables in winter, and receive one from the keepers, and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him, without money. If any want food or victuals, they may either go to the butchers' shops, and receive that they want without money; or else go to the flocks of sheep, or herds of cattle, and take and kill what meat is needful for their families, without buying and selling. And the reason why all the riches of the earth are a common stock is this, because the earth and the labours thereupon are managed by common assistance of every family, without buying and seIling ...

Even as now we have particular trade in cities and towns, called shopkeepers, which shall remain still as they be, only altered in their receiving in and delivering out. For whereas by the law of kings or conquerors they do receive in and deliver out by buying and selling, and exchanging the conqueror's picture or stamp upon a piece of gold or silver for the fruits of the earth, now they shall (by the laws of the Commonwealth) receive into their shops and deliver out again freely, without buying and selling.

They shall receive in as into a storehouse, and deliver out again freely as out of .a common storehouse, when particular persons or families come for anything they need; as now they do by buying and selling under kingly government.

For as particular families and tradesmen do make several works more than they can make use of, as hats, shoes, gloves, stockings, linen and woolen cloth and the like, and do carry their particular work to storehouses, to work upon without buying and selling; and go to other storehouses and fetch any other commodity which they want and cannot make .. For as other men partakes of their labours, it is reason they should partake of other men's.

* * *

Every tradesman shall fetch materials, as leather, wool, flax, corn and the like, from the public storehouses .to work upon without buying and selling; and when particular works are made, as cloth, shoes, hats and the like, the tradesmen shall bring these particular works to particular shops as is now in practice, without buying and selling. And every family as they want such things as they cannot make, they shall go to these shops and fetch without money, even as now they fetch it with money.

* * *

As silver and gold is either found out in mines in own and, or brought by shipping from beyond the sea, it shall not be coined with a conqueror's stamp upon it, to set. up buying and selling under his name by his leave; for there shall be no other use of it the commonwealth than to make dishes and other necessaries for the ornament of houses, as now there use made of brass, pewter and iron, or any other metal in their use.

(Winstanley: The Law of Freedom and Other Writings,edited by Christopher Hill, Pelican Classic, 1973).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The unequal society

Incomes nearly quadrupled for the top 1 percent of Americans in the last three decades, while barely rising among middle- and lower-income households, according to new data from the Congressional Budget Office.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

war for gas ?

Israel will not hesitate to use force to protect its gas fields from being claimed by Lebanon, Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau warned. "We will not hesitate to use our force and strength to protect not only the rule of law but the international maritime law," Landau said.

Lebanon parliament speaker Nabih Berri earlier this month urged his government to start exploring its offshore natural gas reserves, claiming that otherwise Israel would claim the resources. "Israel is racing to make the case a fait accompli and was quick to present itself as an oil emirate, ignoring the fact that, according to the maps, the deposit extends into Lebanese waters," Berri said. "Lebanon must take immediate action to defend its financial, political, economic and sovereign rights."

The the head of petroleum and natural gas exploration in the National Infrastructures Ministry, Dr. Yaakov Mimran, called the claims "nonsense." Mimran explained that the Israel-Lebanon border is not perpendicular to the coast and Israel's exclusive offshore economic zone includes all the fields.Prof. Moshe Hirsch of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an expert in international law. He said the gas is under Israel's continental shelf, so there was no need to declare an exclusive economic zone. Altogether the basin in the eastern Mediterranean to which those fields belong could contain an amount of gas equivalent to one-fifth of U.S. natural gas reserves.

Until recently, Israel was facing an energy predicament. The discoveries at Tamar and Leviathan solved the problem: Israel will no longer have to import natural gas. Its dilemma now, rather, is deciding where to export the excess and how to reap the most geopolitical gains from its new status as an energy exporter.

misery upon grief

At least 245 million women around the world have been widowed and more than 115 million of them live in devastating poverty, according to a new study. Also according to the report, over 500 million dependent and adult children of widows are caught in a vicious underworld in which disease, forced servitude, homelessness and violence are rampant and youngsters are denied schooling, enslaved or preyed upon by human traffickers.

"The plight of widows — in the shadows of the world — is a human rights catastrophe," said Cherie Blair "It's really a hidden humanitarian crisis...Across the world, widows suffer dreadful discrimination and abuse," Blair said. "In too many cases they're pushed to the very margins of society, trapped in poverty and left vulnerable to abuse and exploitation."
She said many are cheated out of their husbands' assets and property and expelled from their family home — and since they have no money they can't support their children, "so misery is heaped on grief."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Electing a Union "Leader"

Dave Prentis was officially declared re-elected as General Secretary of UNISON today . The results were:
• Dave Prentis: 145,351 (67.2%)
• Roger Bannister: 42,651 (19.7%)
• Paul Holmes: 28,114 (13%)
Turnout 14.6%
Here one Socialist Party member of UNISON explains his personal vote.

Every five years the members of my union, UNISON, according to the rulebook, and existing trade union legislation, have to elect its general secretary. The ballot closed on 11 June. The former general secretary, Dave Prentis, was re-elected. He was opposed by two other candidates, Roger Bannister and Paul Holmes.

Prentis promised to “lead a strong united union”, a union “that will fight for you”. He will “ensure that you are treated with dignity and respect at work and in retirement”. He promised to “manage the union well”. And, he says, that he will be a strong influential leader, who will “take on employers acting unfairly”. Indeed, Dave as he likes to be called, is prepared to do almost anything for me!

I did not vote for him.

Roger Bannister said he was in favour of “a fighting General Secretary”; and that was what he intended to be. It was, he said, time for a change. Bannister was for putting “Public service workers before bankers!” Furthermore, exclaimed Bannister: “Stop wasting money on the Labour Party!” That sounded promising. (UNISON is affiliated to the Labour Party, although many members, including your writer, are contracted out). However, he demanded that “our political fund should only be given to people who stood up for us”. He felt that “Bad employers should not be allowed to put UNISON members at risk!”

End low pay; fight the BNP and all other neo-Nazi organisations; elect a general secretary on a worker’s wage, and elect “a fighting leadership” – these were Roger Bannister’s demands.

I did not vote for him.

Paul Holmes was also in favour of “a fighting General Secretary”, presumably himself, who would like Bannister be prepared to live on a “worker’s wage"; although, like Bannister, he did not say which or what worker (office cleaner, midwife or a chief planning officer?). Holmes claimed that “the job of a leader is to give leadership”.

He, too, was against bankers, fascists, bigots, career politicians and “unscrupulous employers”, who were in his view to blame for the present mess to which we are in. had he been elected, he would have been committed to a union “in which every member can participate and be proud to support”.

I did not vote for him either.

According to Prentis, in his election address, Roger Bannister and Paul Holmes “are backed by revolutionary political parties – the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party (Militant)”. He says that they “are attempting to hijack UNISON and use your subscriptions for their political ends”.

He is, of course, right about the second sentence, but not the first. Neither the SWP nor Militant (which is not the Socialist Party!) are genuine revolutionary organisations. Both are reformist, mainly sloganising and elitist Leninist parties, and as such are as anti-socialist as the BNP.

I have been a member of a trade union most of my life, but I am more than aware of their limitations. The above statements and comments by Prentis, Bannister and Holmes amply demonstrate this. Nevertheless, the final paragraph in Karl Marx’s Value, Price and Profit (edited by his daughter, Eleanor, who was herself an active trade unionist), notes that trade unions work will as centres of resistance against the encroachments of capital. But “they fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organised forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system”.

On my ballot paper, under the names of Prentis, Bannister and Holmes, I wrote: “None of the above: one leader, and two would-be leaders.”

Rich get richer

Yesterday we had the budget and the sanctimonious bleating from Osbourne that "the burden is fairly shared" and today the Bank of America / Merrill Lynch released the 2010 edition of their World Wealth Report. It highlightsthe world's High Net Worth Individuals(HNWIs), people with at least $1 million in liquid assets, excluding primary homes.

Its conclusions:
The world’s population of HNWIs grew 17.1% to 10.0 million in 2009.
- The rich got richer: The combined wealth of the world's rich rose 18.9% to $39.0 trillion in 2009.
-The 3.1 million rich in North America control $10.7 trillion in wealth; In Asia 3 million own $9.7 trillion; 3 million in Europe control $9.5 trillion; The HNWI population in Latin America is only 0.5 million and have $6.7 trillion to share amongst them.

SOYMB awaits the tears of the rich at the sacrifices they are to suffer.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Government Declares Class War

The ‘savage cuts’ in spending by government departments, cuts in housing benefit, a two-year pay freeze for public servants, less indexation for welfare benefits, price increases due to higher VAT announced in the 22 June Emergency Budget, and openly trailed as inaugurating a new ‘Age of Austerity’ and ‘years of pain’, confirm that the role of governments is to run the state machine in the general interest of the capitalist class, the tiny minority of super rich who own and control the means of wealth production. That governments really are the ‘executive committee of the ruling class’ that Marx said they were.

In fact, in a throwback to the 19th century, this particular government is overwhelmingly composed of members of the ruling class. And these millionaires have the cheek to tell us that we must tighten our belts and change our way of life while – even, so that – theirs can continue.

In reducing corporation tax the Chancellor followed the advice of a fellow Tory writing in the Times (17 June) to choose “the interests of employers and wealth creators. That won’t be popular but healthier businesses – free of tax and red tape – are essential for generating tax revenues, exports and new jobs.”

Note the arrogance of these people in describing themselves as ‘wealth creators’ when in fact it is employees, not employers, who create wealth by transforming materials that originally came from nature into useful things. What employers do is organise that the maximum amount of this newly-created wealth goes to their business as profit.

But the Tory did have a point. Under capitalism the engine of growth is capital accumulation by businesses and this is fuelled by profits. In this sense, tax receipts and jobs do depend on profit-healthy businesses, even if only as by-products which are used to try to convince the general public that it is in their interest that priority should be given to profits.

That priority has to be given to profits at the expense of the living standards of working people and their dependants is confirmation that capitalism is a system that does not work in the interest of the wealth-creating majority, only in that of the profit-taking minority. Which is why it must go.

In the meantime we have to live with it. That doesn’t mean we have to take what the government has planned lying down. The precise cut in our living standards is not something the government can decree. It depends on how determinedly we resist. In other words, on the class struggle. But, since the cards under capitalism are always stacked against us, this will only be a defensive, rearguard action to try to stop things getting worse.

Yet another reason why we should be organising, not just to limit the damage, but to put an end to capitalism and usher in a society based on common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, so that production can be geared to satisfying people’s needs instead of being subordinate to making profits for the few.

Cuts , cuts and more cuts

As the party in charge of the finances of the capitalist state in Britain, the Con-LibDems has to find the money to pay for the government. There exists an ongoing desire for “cheap government”. Governments are entirely dependent for their finances on the profit-making sector of the economy. This is the sector where the profit motive reigns supreme. As governments are not engaged in producing wealth themselves, the only way they can get money is by taxing or borrowing from this sector. Governments, not just in Britain but everywhere, have had to resort to drastic measures to raise money. When Chancellors say they haven't got the money to maintain public services at existing levels they are telling the truth. They haven't. The cupboard really is bare.

They have drastically reduced the level of services provided by national and local government. They have considerably worsened the working conditions of public sector employees, attacking their alleged “privileged” terms and conditions. When they oppose higher wages they do so because their responsibility, by virtue of being the government, is to keep the capitalist system functioning in the only way that capitalism can function, that is by enabling the capitalists to make profits. We can blame the “wicked Tories” for all this. But the Tories have essentially been the agents - granted , the all-too-willing agents, it is true - of economic forces beyond the control of any government. Government spending has to be squeezed to allow the profit-seeking sector to retain more of the reduced profits they have been making. And governments have no alternative but to dance to this tune.
Their fervent hope is that through increasing the efficiency of business, market discipline will make Britain an attractive place for investors and so help further domestic economic expansion. Their policies are thus geared around providing the "right environment" for businesses to grow.

Marx once wrote that the government is "but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie". And it's still true. The function of any government is to manage the common affairs of the capitalist class as a whole. This involves spending the money raised from taxes in a prudent way on things that will benefit the capitalist class as a whole. That's what most government spending goes on, and balancing this against income from taxes is what budgets are essentially about.

The lesson of all this is? First, governments are there not to further the common interest but to run the capitalist system, in the interest of those who live off profits to the detriment of those who live off wages and salaries. Second, that under the profit system workers are always on the receiving end.

One to Watch

'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists', Everyman Theatre, Liverpool (0151 709 4776) to 10 July; Minerva Theatre, Chichester (01243 781312) 15 July to 26 August

The Independent
has a little look back on the book and author today. It was a book which made me become a socialist and join the Socialist Party

Dying from food

SOYMB has previous posted on the food industry and the wide use of salt in our food products. It was pointed out that cuts in the use of salt in foods could reduce deaths by 150,000 in America. Now, in the UK we have the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) saying that unhealthy foods have wreaked a “terrible toll of ill health”.

The organisation says that ministers should consider introducing legislation if food manufacturers failed to make their products healthier.It says “toxic” artificial fats known as trans fats, which have no nutritional value and are linked to heart disease, should be banned.Halving the individual daily salt intake.

Five million people in the country suffering the effects of cardiovascular disease — a “largely avoidable” condition that includes heart attacks, heart disease and stroke — and that it causes 150,000 deaths annually. Nice says 40,000 of these deaths could be prevented.Poorer people have up to a threefold increased risk of heart disease over those who live in more affluent areas of the country. The focus for the Nice committee was safeguarding the population, rather than advising the individual who may have limited options.

Klim McPherson, professor of health epidemiology at Oxford University and chairman of the Nice committee said "Commercial organisations are very good at exploiting people who make choices on price and convenience."
The president of the Royal College of Physicians, Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, said "The profits of private firms ought not to take precedence when compared with the health of the more than four million people at risk in this country."

Monday, June 21, 2010

football globalisation

With the current 2010 World Cup unfolding, an article on football by Branko Milanovic, a professor at the School of Policy, University of Maryland makes interesting reading and worth quoting.

Soccer embodies globalisation like no other sport. And for players, soccer embodies globalization like no other profession. The market for professional soccer players is, by far, the most globalised labour market. Out of some 2,600 professional players in the five top European leagues – England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France – almost 800 are expatriates, defined as those born and recruited in a county different from the one where they play, according to data published by Professional Football Players Observatory for the last soccer season. Today, many of the best clubs have no players at all from their “own” countries.

Globalisation of the world’s most popular game is responsible for two developments:most observers agree that the quality of the game has improved - players have greater physical stamina, with better ball control and technique. But also, global mobility of labour combined with a capitalist system, in which the richest clubs can buy the best players without salary caps or other limits, concentrates quality more than ever before. A handful of richest soccer teams buy the best players and collect the most trophies, thus boosting their popularity, developing an international fan base, selling more jerseys and advertisements, adding to their coffers and, in turn, buying better players.

During the last 15 years, all English soccer championships but one were won by the so-called Big Four: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool [In the SPL there is, of course, the duopoly of the Old Firm]. The concentration is greater in Italy. Only once during the last 20 years has a non top-four club won the Italian Series A. It’s no surprise that the top four Italian clubs, like the top four English clubs, are on the list of the 20 richest clubs in the world. In Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona shared 17 out of the last 20 championships. In Germany, 13 out of the last 16 championships were won by two clubs. Winners of the European Champions League are consistently from a narrowing circle of top, richest clubs.

Globalisation combined with commercialisation thus produces two outcomes: better quality of the game, which is tantamount, in economics, to greater output; and greater concentration of winning clubs, which is tantamount to greater inequality.

No pensions problem - just a profit problem

Pensions and the retirement age are under attack. Ex-Labour cabinet minister John Hutton has been appointed by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition to head a commission that will look for ways to cut the cost of pensions for public sector workers.

In 2008 there were 3.6m members of occupational pension schemes in the private sector and 5.4m in the public sector. 87% of final salary schemes have closed to new entrants including high street names such as Boots, Barclays, Morrisons, Royal Bank of Scotland, the Post Office, IBM and Rentokil. 18% are also closed to existing staff – and this is likely to rise to 39% in the coming year.The average amount received from an occupational pension in 2006/7 was £68 for a single pensioner and £153 for a pensioner couple.

Due to mounting costs, employers are currently scaling back drastically the number of final salary (or defined benefit) pension schemes, that is, pensions where the final annuity is guaranteed as a proportion of the employee's final salary by the employer. That is, the onus is on them to make up any shortfall in receipts from the fund and pay the pension. This is as opposed to defined contribution pensions, wherein returns are not guaranteed and will only apply according to the sums invested, as with any other personal pension. This exposes the pensioners to the full market risk of investing in the stock market casino. This change in pension terms means a fall in employer contributions (defined contribution schemes are cheaper for them) and exposes them to less risk. As the TUC point out in their document Pensions in Peril: the Decline of the Final Salary Pension, Inland Revenue statistics indicate that employers have netted a sum of £19 billion through reducing pension contributions or taking contribution holidays on the back of the surpluses in the pension funds between 1988 and 2000. That is, they pocketed profits from the pension funds by the back door, using the revenue they generated to cut the amount of money they need to pay to wages out of current receipts. While some point to changing demographics – with an increasingly ageing population in Western countries – as a key reason for the pensions problem ( people living longer and likely future population trends has been known for years about and pension schemes will have already taken this into account.) What has caused the current financial problems for such schemes has been the unanticipated slump in stock exchange prices, people’s pensions being dependent on the vagaries of the stock market. Hardly a week passes without the announcement of some pension scheme being unable to meet its obligations.

As we have seen said, one problem is of a falling stock exchange. With the slump in stock market prices there have been capital losses rather than capital gains and many schemes have run into financial difficulties. Employers have been using this as a reason for cutting benefits. As pension payments are a huge burden on them the capitalist class have an interest in ensuring that the pensions paid out do not get too out of hand. Pensions are effectively deferred wages, with employers weighing their expected contribution to the pension fund off against current wages laid out.

The need for pensions arises from the fact that as workers get older, they become less able to work, and become surplus to the requirements of capital. Those workers have spent their lives selling their capacity to work, in return for a wage which represented the cost of maintaining and reproducing their capacity to go on doing that work. If they cannot work, they have no other means of securing their means of living. Since the capitalists do not want to hire them, and workers are unwilling to work until they drop, the capitalist class has to pay out to keep workers alive upon retirement. One of the non-productive activities that the capitalist State has to undertake is the maintenance of the poor, those members of the working class who are unable to work and therefore have no income from a wage or salary paid by an employer: the sick, the handicapped, the unemployed and of course the old. So in this sense pensions reflect the existence to the class struggle. For workers, the struggle is not only over the size of pensions, but over identity, security and, ultimately, working conditions too. The pensions problem within capitalism once more proves the market economy's incapacity to go beyond the limits of the wages system, and adequately provide for the needs of those who have worked all their lives. As the capitalist class endeavours to encourage us to share their interests, we find our lives opened up to the chaos and insanity of the stock market casino. But the market system cannot provide any security for us in the long run, which is why we need to turn the class struggle on the economic front into a fight for a society based upon the direct satisfaction of needs.

The source of all such unearned income is what Marx called the surplus value produced by workers over and above what they are paid.It is out of this unpaid labour that not only the idle rich but the whole non-productive superstructure of capitalist society (the armed forces, civil service, legal system, banking, and other money-handling activities) has to be maintained. What allows capitalism to maintain an enormous non-productive sector is the high level of productivity in the productive sector, a productivity which increases slowly but steadily all the time, historically at a rate of one to two percent a year ( means a near doubling of annual output over the next 40 years). Pensioners too are maintained out of this surplus. Pensions are a transfer payment from the profits of the capitalists, even if ultimately these profits come from what workers produce. So, even if the ‘over-burdened pension system’ was to be reduced, this would not benefit the working population since the capitalist class would never dream of passing this on as higher salaries.

With proportionately less workers engaged in production they are able to produce proportionately more wealth. It is the increasing productivity that will go on between now and when existing workers retire that will mean that society, even this capitalist society, will be able to support the expected increased proportion of retired people in the population. There no pensions problem.But don't believe us, Philip Sadler of the think tank Tomorrow's Company said there was no "ageing crisis...As a society we can afford to grow old," he said. "Rising productivity will outweigh any negative influence on living standards from an ageing population."

The motto of the ancient Roman slave owners was that slaves should work, or sleep. It seems the modern capitalists’ version of that term is that wage slaves must work till they drop.The advances in civilisation from our labour – including an increased life span – are being clawed back by capital to its advantage.We need to be clear, cutting pension levels and raising the retirement age of workers is a very real pay cut. We will be asked to work more years and for a greater proportion of our lives than we expected and all this for much less.

Rousing the unions to defend the workers’ position within capitalism, however, isn't our mission. The job of socialists is to show how we are robbed and exploited by the system ruled by capital and how we can untap the wealth of our collective productive power by taking control of the means of production, where the creation of second class cast-off workers known as pensioners would cease.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Human nature and morality

After Marx died there grew up a legend that his theory of social causation was too narrowly mechanistic to provide accommodation for any sort of ethics. No doubt Marx, in combating the sentimental "moralising" of certain utopian contemporaries who called themselves "the True Socialists", had leaned so far backward as to give semblance if not substance for fathering on him views whose alleged paternity he would have disclairned.

The humanistic socialism combated by Marx, like its contemporary counterpart, was a pseudo-political trend, inspired by the literati, philosophers and pundits. Moses Hess was for a time their most representative spokesman. For the early humanists as with the latter day ones, socialism was not a question of "by bread alone" - even though bread might be included. Socialism was primarily a question of moral values. Stress was laid on brotherly love, the dignity of man and concern for the individual. From such political piety, socialism came to be defined as "the ethics of love". Then, socialism took the guise of contemporary humanism. Now, humanism assumes the role of contemporary socialism.

Like many of the views Marx fought against, the arguments of the True Socialists have turned up over and over again in a variety of social situations, tricked out each time in fresh frills and flounces, as if making their first bow on the stage of world history.

Humanism the classless ethic

Common to all shades of this humanistic approach is the tenet that socialism is not basically a question of economic interests but humanitarian ideals. Not a matter for the stomach, but an affair of the heart, and that a moral revolution must be the prelude to the social revolution. Not only, argue the humanists, have men an women altruistic feelings, but implicit in these feelings are the ideals of communism. All that is necessary is to encourage and help promote these altruistic tendencies, to actualise the Brotherhood of Man based on universal love.

If our true nature is some residual and permanent quality of the human species, then every individual is at least in embryo a communist. But what the right kind of social conditions necessary for this are, the humanists all through the ages have been very vague about. Again, if our essence is our "true nature", then this human essence transcends all social systems and classes. Landed proprietors, capitalists, peasants and wage workers are all equally capable of actualising their "true nature" into the communist way of life. Thus, while many humanists have called for the abolition of all classes they have done so in the name of an abstract classless ethic. While they will admit that the class struggle itself is inevitably engendered by the competitive character of capitalist society, they nevertheless hold that it militates against the growth of humanistic ideals by giving emphasis to material differences instead of stressing human sameness. Many humanists have even talked about the necessity of prosecuting the class struggle, but how can one ask people to disregard class interests and then call upon one class to oppose another?

Human nature as an historic variable

The ethical assumptions of all varieties of what is called the humanistic socialist view are based on the fixity of human nature. They share this view with theological theorists, the difference being that the former hold that this basic human nature is good and the latter that it is bad. Marx denied that human nature can be placed in such absolute categories. Both Marx and Engels held that human nature was not an absolute constant but an historic variable. In fact, they always insisted that the "human nature" to which humanists and the clericalists appeal, each in their different ways, cannot serve as a guide to social organisation. It is not human nature which explains society, but society which explains human nature. There is no given human nature independent of time and place. There is only an historical human nature, that is a specific expression of human nature in a definite social context. To put it more precisely, to understand the nature of the human one must understand the nature of the society in which humans live. When we adopt such a criterion we discover that there is no immutable human nature, no homogeneous pattern to which a universal appeal can be made for the justification of concrete social questions. There can be no overall moral agreement or ethical unity in a social system split by class interests and antagonisms.

Class demands v. ethical neutrality

Contrary to what humanists believe, all ethics can be shown to have a class bias in a class system, and further there can be no genuine class ethic unless backed by class demands. That is why on concrete social issues one cannot appeal to "Man" or "the normal human". Neither is there some ethically neutral tribunal to which opposing class rights can be impartially referred

Capitalist society consists of buyers and sellers of labour-power. The worker as a seller of labour-power cannot assert his or her "right" to maintain or improve living standards via ethical appeal or moral law. Nor is the capitalist under a moral obligation to waive or even remit in any way the unpaid labour of the worker - profit - back in the form of increased wages. Not only has the capitalist a legal right to profit, but from his standpoint a moral right as well. Behind this moral right stands custom, tradition, religion, the classless ethic - and the State. As Marx points out in Capital, "There is here, therefore, an antimony, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchange. Between equal rights, force decides".

In a society such as capitalism, based on a permanent class conflict, there can be no genuine appeal to a neutral ethics. That is why Marx never invoked Humanity, Justice or Mercy as aqencies for solving social struggle. For the same reason he rejected the abstract classless morality of Kant and Christ. Morality for Marx is not eternal or natural but active and social. Morality to be genuinely effective must be based on needs, and in a class society on class needs. It is true that ethical ideals, like truth, duty, honour and human rights, acquire a seeming eternal form. But social analysis shows while the forms of these ideals are the same, their nature differs from social epoch to social epoch and from class to class. So if the question is posed: whose truth? whose duty? what human rights?, one will find in the answer a class standpoint. Crack the shell of a classless absolute ethic hard enough and the kernel of a class interest will be found. Marxist ethics do not invoke "Truth", "Duty" and "Altruism" but demand a state of affairs where these things have a different content from the existing ruling morality. Humility or self assertion, unselfishness or selfishness are themselves neither virtuous nor vicious; it is the actual social situation which gives them their truly moral quality.

The demand for the abolition of classes is a concrete class demand, engendered by a specific social situation. For the working class to be concerned with the plight of its "enemies" is itself a policy of despair whose ultimate logic is the perpetuation of capitalism. That is why we reject the classless ethic of religious theory and the school of bourgeois morality with its intuitive ethics based on the private individual. For such moral views turn out to be a disguised defence of the status quo.

Socialist Standard February 1989

And after the World Cup?

"What recovery?" asks Ms Gugu Rambau, an advertising executive. "This year is even harder. I want to get out of debt but I'm forced to dip into my credit card again and again for basics."

Leading economists say that South Africa, currently underperforming its potential with around three per cent growth, needs to at least double that to address its economic misery and avoid it spilling into serious social unrest.

Millions without jobs -- officially one-in-four of the population , unofficially it may be as high as 40 per cent. A better standard of living eludes most of South Africa's 50 million people since the fall of apartheid in 1994. Social protests have highlighted frustrations at living with poverty 16 years into democracy and the chronically high unemployment rate will stoke further unrest. Job-seeking South Africans by the thousands signed on for short-term stints as World Cup security guards — only to go on strike early in the tournament and lose those jobs in a bitter dispute over low wages. According to UBS Investment Research, the 2010 World Cup has created more than 330,000 jobs. But many of those were temporary and low-paid, such as the short-lived jobs for the striking security stewards at World Cup stadiums. The strikers said they were offered half the pay they were initially promised — 190 rand ($25) or less for shifts of 12 hours or more."We want to put it in our memory that we enjoyed the World Cup, but we need to eat," said striker Denis Manganye.
In Durban,community organizer Desmond D'Sa said "...people must be so desperate, knowing they're going up against the national mood and a very tough police force. They risk being depicted as the spoilsports of the World Cup because they've had it up to here." D'Sa said the strikers shared a common plight with many other South Africans hired for World Cup jobs — in effect, they were hired as freelance, temporary workers rather than having a formal contract."The spread of a system of casualization has made workers very vulnerable," he said.

Windfall from the World Cup tournament has been an empty dream for fishermen, street traders, souvenir and clothing manufacturers.Many were angered at the contracts for World Cup merchandise that went to manufacturers abroad; even the toy versions of the tournament mascot, Zakumi, were produced for a while in China to the wrath of South African labor activists. Many traders had hoped for a bonanza catering to World Cup spectators but are being barred from FIFA-enforced "exclusion zones" around the stadiums — which are, for the most part, reserved for official sponsors like McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Budweiser. Many vendors and subsistence fishermen have been evicted from a pier and beachfront area that has been redeveloped for the World Cup.

"You are going to get more hungry people and hungry people become angry people so one can expect social demonstrations to persist" said Ian Cruickshanks, head of treasury strategic research at Nedbank.

Immigrants from even poorer parts of Africa are already worried after threats to drive them out when the soccer World Cup tournament ends in July. Riots against foreign nationals killed 62 people two years ago and displaced more than 100,000.

Outside a bar in northern Johannesburg, a man was angry. "I don't know what the people living in shacks thought: that their lives were going to get better because of a soccer team."

Patrick Craven, the spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions, said "South Africa has all sorts of problems. They started long before the World Cup and will continue long afterward."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Free Schools

"Free schools", as they are described, have become part of the government plan to remove all schools from local authority control so that they can be run locally. Parents' groups, charities, trusts and voluntary groups can set up and operate schools. Academies are publicly-funded schools which operate outside of local authority control. They have more freedom than other schools in the state sector over issues such as teachers' pay and how the school is governed. So is there a difference between free schools and academies? Essentially none because free schools will now be established as academies. By removing the requirement for groups to consult with the local authority before setting up a free school, parents' groups and other groups will not be hindered by the local council. 2000 primary schools and 600 secondaries – have already been offered "fast-track" access to academy status. Disused shops, vacant office blocks, old hospitals and even homes could be used as classrooms as planning laws are relaxed. Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "We're proposing to change the system to make it easier for buildings which are currently being used as, or classed as, residential or commercial to be converted to school use."

In response to the proposed educational reforms , NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: "...there is the strong possibility under this system that governing bodies could increasingly contract out the running of schools to private companies in return for management fees. Adopting such a business model to our schools will amount to the sweeping dismantling of our education system, turning it over to unaccountable, unelected companies."

Education is an integral part of any social system. In one that is dominated by commodity relationships and values, education both reflects and contributes to those relationships and values. A book called The Education Dilemma, edited by a member of the World Bank, makes the following remarkably frank admission : "It is true that schools have 'inputs' and 'outputs' and that one of their nominal purposes is to take human 'raw material' (i.e. children) and convert it into something more valuable (i.e. employable adults)."

The absolute need to produce for profit requires a trained workforce, why else make school attendance a legal requirement, our children being the only members of our society forced by law into an institution without being convicted in court. Education becomes associated with a punitive regime
For the ruling class the education of workers is a cost that must be borne as economically as possible.When state education was established towards the end of the 19th century rote learning, lots of copying was the rule. This reflected industrial processes for which those children were being prepared. Today the direct influence of capitalism is to be seen in the managerial approach; the setting and measuring of targets, a tightly controlled and prescriptive national curriculum, all inspected by commissars of OFSTED. The problem confronted by capitalism is twofold - what to teach people (within the parameters of training for social roles, inculcation of specific cultural values, and regulating and controlling behaviour) and how to teach them (the practical implementation of these values).

George Ritzer wrote a another book , The McDonaldization of Society. The basic principles of the McDonalds are efficiency, quantified and calculated product, predictability, and the substitution (as far as possible) of non-human for human technology. Ritzer shows how these principles are exemplified in education. Schools are required to be cost-effective; league tables give evidence of which institutions get the best exam results. Exams themselves are increasingly boiled down to multiple-choice questions so the answers can be machine graded. The best-selling textbooks are "customised" and contain easily-digested McNuggets of information. School league tables are meant to indicate how well a school is "performing", but in fact help to instil "market discipline" as schools compete for pupils (and therefore funding: this factor is also strongly felt in the further education sector where cutbacks, bullying management and a mad scramble for pupils is wracking those who work there). The encouraged relationship of parents to schools is that of the marketplace. with parents as consumers, entering into a contract with the school that is itself (if it opts out) a self-run business.

We go to school in order to prepare ourselves for entering that market; to gain skills and knowledge we can sell in order to live. Students are workers in waiting. The education system is a production line, a vast factory for turning out workers tuned to our masters' requirements, vending skills for the jobs market; and like any production line, it must produce to follow demand. If the labour market needs cheap unskilled workers, the education system provides. Academic achievement is not the main goal of the education system, providing for the jobs market is. Low academic achievement is factored in, to supply the masses of jobs that don't need brain work. Only a few workers are needed to really think, thus the university system is set up to produce a small élite, to fill that niche market. Their skills are valuable because they are rare: but, as in any other market, if the number of graduates available becomes too large—as it does as university education spreads—they are over-produced, and then their value drops. Sending more people to university does not guarantee more people with higher wages and does not guarantee more skilled jobs.
Schools teach us, subtly and sometimes not so subtly, that buying and selling, handling money, seeking employment, voting for leaders every few years, thinking in national terms, and so on, are all part of the "real world" in which we live. What is not considered, despite much rhetoric to the contrary, is that each child is an individual, ironic for a system that lauds individualism. Socialists have no difficulty with the concept of from each according to ability, an obvious recognition of difference, to each according to need, a guarantee no one can suffer or prosper due to a result of either heredity or environmental influences. We cannot visualise a socialist society where children are regimented into education, conveyor-belt style.

What can we say about education in socialist society? It is easier to foresee what will no longer take place than what will positively develop. With no employment, schooling will lose its function as preparation for employment. No more McDonaldisation of education. The knowledge and skills needed to run a society which inherits the best from the past and rejects the worst will be circulated and developed , and the ability to think creatively and critically, transmitted from generation to generation. They will be truly free schools.

Who Will Do The Dirty Work ?

Who will do the dirty work? Socialism will not be a utopia where all the problems of existence have vanished. Unpleasant work will still have to be done. Socialism can do a lot of things, but it cannot make shit smell of roses - that is a fact of life we have to accept.

Work should not really be equated with employment. Employment is wage labour and the ability to work is a commodity the workers are forced to sell. As such, it has alienating factors associated with it; e.g. Monday to Friday, 9-5, is “their” time, whilst the weekend is "our" time, where we can enjoy working in the garden or doing hobbies. Employment is based on the division of labour. Workers are tied to one job for years on end, instead of being able to do all kinds of things, which socialist society will allow. (Of course, it is a moot point how far the division of labour can be removed from socialism since not everyone can have the steady hand and requisite knowledge of a surgeon, for example.)

One of the strangest objections to socialism we sometimes hear is “Who will do the dirty work?”
But imagine it being argued, “I don't want to live in a world without want and hunger , and where my needs are satisfied, if it means I have to get my hands dirty once or twice a week.”

Well , who will do the dirty work ?

Machinery will do it, answered Oscar Wilde:-

“All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery”.

This will release each individual to help the community in his or her own way by doing service or producing things which will satisfy each person’s need to be active, to contribute and to help.

Wilde summed it up:-

“The community by means of organization of machinery will supply the useful things, and . . . the beautiful things will be made by the individual”. Socialism will entail new applications of technology and the abolition of unnecessary routine work.

Much of the unappealing dirty work can probably be taken care of by utilising labour-saving machines. But where it is impossible and where dirty work will have to be done in socialist society we can be quite sure of two things: Firstly, it will NOT be done by the same people ALL the time . All able members of society will take turns at such work. And secondly, it will be carried out by socially conscious men and women who appreciate that society belongs to them and therefore its less pleasant tasks must be performed by them. In the knowledge that we own and control the earth, and all that is in and on it, it is unlikely that human beings will refuse to attend to the dirty work within socialism .There will be motivation to tackle such tasks, and perhaps some forms of labour may even be viewed as a rite of passage.

The fact is that most jobs under capitalism are either completely or partially unnecessary. Many of those that are necessary are performed by people working long hard hours while others suffer poverty of low wages and low status. Elimination of all jobs required only within a capitalist system would reduce necessary tasks to such a trivial level that they could easily be taken care of voluntarily and cooperatively, eliminating the need for the whole apparatus of economic incentives and state enforcement. The hours needed to work will be considerably reduced from the additional extra labour being made available from no longer required capitalist occupations which will not exist in the moneyless, free access society of socialism. There will simply be many more hands to do the unpleasant but necessary stuff.

As for the lazy shirkers why should they be a serious problem ? Those people living in a socialist society who are too idle to work will not be much of a drain on society’s resources for very long, for if they lie in bed for long enough they will soon die of boredom. But, granted, if too many people didn’t work then society would obviously fall apart. However, we should not forget that to establish socialism in the first place , the vast majority must consciously decide that they want socialism and that they are prepared to work in socialist society. The establishment of socialism presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement and a profound change in social outlook. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism on such a large scale, and the conscious understanding of what it entails on the part of all concerned, would not influence the way people behaved in socialism and towards each other. Would people want to jeopardise the new society they had helped to create?
We think not.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Who Will Do the Dangerous Work?

This is a question often asked when we explain that in socialist society the principle "from each according to his/her abilities, to each according to his/her needs" will apply. In other words, that people will voluntarily contribute in terms of work what they can in order to produce the abundance of wealth to which they will then have free access according to their individual needs (of which they themselves will be the sole judge).

The assumption behind the "dirty work" objection is that if work were voluntary nobody would choose to do the hard, the dangerous, the boring or the messy work because this would be "against human nature". We don't want to go here into all the scientific arguments which show that there is nothing in the nature of the animal homo sapiens that would prevent them living in a socialist society; quite the reverse in fact, human beings are animals which have evolved and survived only through their capacity to co-operate. All we will do is draw attention to the fact that the objection is not valid even for all work under capitalism.

Work under capitalism mostly takes the form of employment - that is, work for an employer, under his control and for his profit, and it is therefore not surprising that most people consider "work" to be something unpleasant, to be avoided as much as possible. But when it comes to exercising their mental and physical energies -which is equally "working" - in their own time, as in digging their gardens, pursuing their hobbies and the like, it is a different matter. Because people enjoy this kind of work, many are not even prepared to consider such activities as work, to such an extent has capitalism associated work with work for an employer! Socialism, which will abolish employment, will also abolish this false distinction between "work " (unpleasant) and "play" (pleasant), People will be able to organise the necessary productive work in such away that everybody will be able to derive satisfaction from doing it.

But what about the dirty work? Well, as the Penlee lifeboat disaster recently showed, even under capitalism people can be found to undertake work of the most dangerous kind voluntarily. These lifeboatmen were all volunteers to do a job they knew to be socially necessary. Despite the fuss they made of the disaster, the capitalist class were unable to understand this. "£3 for a start, then, £1 an hour - the price of lifeboat courage" headlined the Daily Telegraph (21/12/81) with the suggestion that lifeboatmen were not being paid enough. But, as any of the lifeboatmen could have told them, this was not the point; money (expenses) was not the motive. In fact, one RNLI official was quoted as saying "some do not bother to claim it".

Then why do they do it, why do they voluntarily undertake such dangerous, dirty work? Why could more than enough volunteers be found from the same village to replace the eight men who died? Because, as we have said, they were aware that there was a socially necessary job to be done. If this can happen under capitalism where the cash nexus has corrupted nearly everything, how can it be imagined that in socialism there will be any problem to find people to undertake any "dirty" jobs that cannot be automated?


Socialist Standard February 1982

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup For All

It's a story that's received little coverage in the Western media, but thousands of South Africans held a march in Durban to protest against the government's massive spending on the World Cup. They were joined by hundreds of stewards caught up in the ongoing dispute over low wages, which saw riot police break up a demonstration with tear gas and percussive grenades on Sunday, and which has now spread to five of the ten South African World Cup stadiums. "Get out Fifa mafia!" chanted the crowds in a Durban park, their ranks swelled by stewards who were involved in clashes with riot police on Monday after protests over their wages.
Those Monday's protests triggered walkouts by other stewards, which have led South Africa's police to take control at the World Cup stadiums in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Durban.

Marchers complained about the lack of service delivery and high electricity prices. They demanded a "World Cup for all", saying the country should put people before profits.

Originally, football was a very unorganised, rough and wild "folk game" between village teams of different sizes and with no fixed pitch boundaries. Only in the nineteenth century was it adapted for mass consumption. Commercialism has shaped it along certain lines, making success more important than enjoyment. The partisan crowds at football matches are prepared to see only their own sides win, and applaud any sort of play to that end. Winning isn't the main thing— it's the only thing. No matter how skilful its play, a losing team has few followers— and its income falls. The language used by football clubs, clearly smacks of the business element in sports. Football clubs who hire the services of footballers are often heard talking of “buying”, “selling”, or “giving out on loan” such-and-such a player. Football has become infested by the sort of parasites whose idea of fun is making money, especially at other people's expense.
Football can be made to achieve its original objective—to entertain both participants and spectators only when it is freely organised by all persons interested in it—and not only by those who have money or ideological motives.

In the meantime, to add insult to injury , the South African government has asked its citizens to use less electricity to ensure a smooth power supply for the World Cup. "We urge our communities and the public at large to continuously reduce their consumption of electricity, and thus ensure that Eskom and other role-players are able to keep the lights on,” Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said.

old and poor in London

NEARLY one-in-three people in London planning to retire this year will receive an income below the poverty line, according to research.

They will have an annual income of £14,000 or less.A single person in Britain needs an income of at least £13,900 a year before tax to afford a basic, but acceptable standard of living, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Helping hungry children

Médecins Sans Frontières urges the end of what the organisation terms "sub-standard" food aid donated to impoverished countries through international donors and humanitarian contributions. The majority of the donations are cereal-based fortified flours that do not meet basic nutritional standards for infants and young children, according to MSF nutrition expert Dr. Susan Shepherd.

"Much more attention is paid to the food of cattle and pets," Shepherd told more than 500 attendees of a panel discussion. She urged the international community to "give the children what they need, not what is left over. Treat the young children of developing countries the same way you would treat your own children."

The grim facts from the Food and Agriculture Organisation are that 14,000 children die of hunger every day and five million children die every year. The death of children due to hunger stems from malnutrition than starvation. "Children in Asia are not receiving the correct micronutrients; they lack sufficient vitamins and minerals in their food," said France Begin, regional nutrition advisor of Asia-Pacific office of the United Nations Children’s Fund. "Children die of chronic hunger in Asia because their immune systems are weak" she told IPS. "Pneumonia and diarrhoea are the two main killers."

The cost of food has condemned millions into food insecurity, according to the Asian Development Bank. In Cambodia, nearly 71 percent of a family’s expense goes toward food, in Tajikistan and Burma (Myanmar) 70 percent goes to a family’s food bill, Georgia, 64 percent, Azerbaijan, 60 percent, and Nepal, 59 percent.

The irony among victims of food insecurity in Asia is that most of them live in rural areas that produce food.

"Small farmers are net buyers of food from the market," said FAO official Konuma. "The rice they produce is sold to buy other food items."

The crazy consequence of capitalist commodity production .

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bondage and slavery

A U.S. State Department report, the 10th annual global human trafficking report details some stark statistics

12.3 million adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world 1.8 per 1,000 inhabitants (in Asia and the Pacific: 3 per 1,000)

56 percent of these victims are women and girls.

The full report can be read here

The Delhi Games

SOYMB has described the current South Africa World Cup as a sporting circus for the promotion of national prestige but lets not forget that also later this year another jamboree will be taking place - the 2010 October Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India.

In South Africa we saw the homeless and the squatters and the street traders being re-located. In Delhi , they are sending back beggars found on the streets to the towns and villages from which they migrated. Firm about dealing with the “social menace”, the government has formed 13 teams to round up beggars and declared 12 “zero-tolerance zones”. Mobile courts are already in operation to prosecute beggars and more are on the way .

The goal of making Delhi shine as the show-case city has led to the construction of flyovers, development of a metro rail system, street-scaping, and the renovation of prominent markets. Slums have been cleared and dhabas that dotted the lanes of Delhi removed. The result is a stark rise in the number of homeless people. The burden of hosting the Commonwealth Games has fallen on the city's poor.

According to the Social Welfare Department, Delhi has an estimated 60,000 beggars. A study by the Centre for Media Studies, Delhi, found that around 90 per cent of the beggars in Delhi were migrants from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, pushed to the national capital by poverty.

Delhi's Social Welfare Minister Mangat Ram Singhal has invoked the Bombay Prevention of Beggary Act, 1959, which criminalises begging which was not enforced until two years ago.The Act prescribes punishment up to 10 years for a person found begging. It bans begging, vending on roads, cleaning vehicles at traffic junctions, singing for money in buses and displaying physical disability to seek alms. A person penalised under the Bombay Act is sent to a special “beggar court” or is tried by the mobile courts. These courts have suddenly become active under the Delhi government's initiative to remove anyone found vending, squatting or sleeping on the streets, railway stations, bus stops or any other public places.

Harsh Mander, a social activist said the poor feared police high-handedness. “It's like a war against the poor” .

The civil rights groups Housing and Land Rights Network says there is rampant exploitation of workers at the Commonwealth Games construction sites, which includes low pay, inadequate living conditions and lack of safety equipment.Tens of thousands of rural migrants have also been brought in for construction work, but civil rights activists say they have documented "widespread rights violations" at building sites.

“The scale of the Games and the excessive costs involved are hard to justify in a country that has glaringly high levels of poverty, hunger, inequality, homelessness and malnutrition. When one of three Indians lives below the poverty line and 40 per cent of the world's hungry live in India, when 46 per cent of India's children and 55 per cent of its women are malnourished, does spending thousands of crores of rupees on a 12-day sports event build national pride,” said Shivani Chaudhry, associate co-ordinator of HLRN.

German rich get richer , German poor get poorer

We have often reported on the growing gap between the rich and the poor in the UK and the USA. And it is the same in Germany. A report by the DIW Institute of Economic Research "...clearly shows that not only have the numbers of rich and poor been rising, but households have been getting poorer for 10 years"

A single person in the poorest income bracket earned an adjusted 680 euros a month ($912) on average 10 years ago but just 645 euros in 2008, the report found. Meanwhile, the average for the higher income brackets rose to 2,700 from 2,400 euros.Only 60 percent of Germans make a net monthly income of 860 to 1,844 euros -- down from 66 percent in 2000. The number of low-income earners rose to almost 22 percent in 2009 from 18 percent in 2000.

"We saw a 'relative polarization' in the years up until 1999 - that means that the percentage of people in these two areas, the very rich and the very poor, has risen, but there was also a rise in the lowest incomes," Goebel told Deutsche Welle. "But in the years from 2000, we have seen a so-called 'absolute polarization' - that means there were not only more people in these lower and upper brackets, but their incomes also drifted further apart. The poor got poorer, and the rich got richer."

higher cancer rates for the poor

A report from the National Cancer Intelligence Network found up to 14,000 cancer cases in England could be prevented if the population was as healthy as the top 20 per cent in the country. People from poorer backgrounds were more likely to smoke or be obese and suffer from late diagnosis and inequalities in the treatments offered to them.Poorer patients were more likely to suffer a range of cancers compared to their richer counterparts, including lung, head, neck oesophageal, bladder, cervical, stomach and liver cancer.

In the most affluent areas of England, 345 in every 100,000 people were diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2004 compared to 399 in every 100,000 in the most deprived areas - including Barnsley, Wakefield, Birmingham and large areas of London - a
16 per cent difference.The study also revealed men were more likely to suffer the effects of deprivation than women. Cancer rates among men in the most deprived areas were up to 21 per cent higher than in the least deprived. The gap between women was narrower, at 11 per cent.

Bloody Sunday

All those killed on Bloody Sunday were innocent. Thirteen marchers were shot dead on 30 January 1972 in Londonderry when British paratroopers opened fire on crowds at a civil rights demonstration. Fourteen others were wounded, one of whom later died. The report said that the Army fired the first shots. No warning had been given to any civilians before the soldiers opened fire. None of the soldiers fired in response to attacks. Some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to help those injured or dying. None of the casualties was posing a threat or doing anything that would justify their shooting. Some of the soldiers lost control and soldiers lied about what happened.

The guns have been almost silent now. Bigotry and violence, including state violence killed some 3,500 people and injured a further 40,000 and, apart from the gangsters who have found opportunity for gain in this mayhem, it has not advanced the condition of any section of the working class. There is, however, a lesson to be drawn from years of workers killing workers over the political issues thrown up by capitalism and by its obedient instrument, religion: the utter futility and irrelevance of such conflict to change or improve the class position of the working class. What have the workers across the infamous religious divide got? As so many times before, they have simply been used as pawns.

Peace does not automatically mean prosperity. But the absence of killing, maiming and intimidation can bring an improvement to the quality of working class life in Northern Ireland and, especially, it can help the victims of capitalism to focus on the real cause of their problems.

The true battle-cry of the working class is more significant and more inspiring than mere nationalism, and that rally cry is: THE WORLD FOR THE WORKERS!

Further reading:- The Thirteen Derry Dead

It is just bad luck

On 10th of May Socialism Or Your Money Back offered its observations on the BP oil-well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico . We posted this comment:
"Capitalism, with its emphasis on profit and short-term considerations, provides fertile ground for accidents and disasters of various kinds. It also means that any accidents which do happen are likely to be more serious and harmful than would otherwise be the case. Cutting corners and ignoring safety matters is part and parcel of a profit-oriented system."

Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the head of its investigation into the oil spill released confidential e-mails written in the days before the catastrophic explosion in the Gulf of Mexico show that serious concerns, raised within the company and by contractors, were disregarded for financial reasons.

He said “We found a pattern.Every time they had a decision to make they decided to cut corners; to do things faster than they otherwise should have been done; to do it less expensively and the consequence of this, as one independent expert told us, was horribly negligent...Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense...BP chose the more risky casing option, apparently because the liner option would have cost $7 to $10 million more and taken longer...BP appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure."

takes little pleasure out of saying we told you so. Under the profit system profits always come first.This is why in industry we suffer speed-ups and accidents.Capitalism means the lust for profits. Governmental regulation can affect the level of accidents, but the desire for profits favours the cutting of corners, so the possibility always remain.Capitalists must remain flexible enough to take risks that may brings greater rewards in the interest of profit.This competitive aspect of capitalism nullifies any real prospect of solving the problem through the law.

The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico at the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig was just "an unfortunate accident" arising from the normal functioning of the system. And although one might think that it would therefore be natural to challenge the system that accepts this lunacy as an unfortunate accident, nothing could be further from the minds of the media coverage that has ensued.The profit system must go, to be replaced by non-market socialism, and that this can be the only solution to the problem.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Human Nature and Human Behaviour

Socialist Review was produced by our Jamaica Group from 1970 to 1974 and in one of the issues was a reprint from the Socialist Standard. It's still worth reading today. SOYMB took it upon itself to re-edit slightly because of the slightly sexist language of the original article.

"What about human nature?" is a common reaction among those hearing the case for Socialism for the first time. To a certain extent, no doubt, this reflects a healthy scepticism amongst ordinary people towards so revolutionary a new idea. But there is more to the human nature argument than this. Behind it is a clever but false theory touching on the subjects of biology, anthropology, and sociology.

Because people are lazy and greedy and aggressive, runs the human nature objection, they could not live in a society where work was voluntary or where there was free access to wealth. If work were voluntary, nobody would do it; if goods were freely available, there would be a free-for-all as people fought each other to grab as much as they could.

Let us be clear about what this says: that certain patterns of behaviour are innate and are inherited from generation to generation by all human beings.

Highly adaptable
What evidence has been brought forward in favour of this view? Only the way people actually behave in present-day and in many previous societies. It is true that people sometimes are lazy or aggressive, but this is not in itself strong enough evidence for concluding that this is because they are born that way. Because, if this were so, all people would exhibit these characteristics at all times in all societies.

Since this is what the human nature argument asserts, it is sufficient to disprove it to produce examples of men behaving in a hard-working or a friendly way. This is easy. At times most human beings will feel lazy; at others they will undertake extremely hard work because they enjoy it. At times they will be aggressive, but at others friendly and helpful to their fellow human beings. The fact is that everyday experience of life today disproves the human nature argument.

So does the evidence of the past. There are traveller's tales going back to ancient times of human communities based on common property with equal or fair sharing of what little there was to go round. Witnesses have testified to the consistently friendly and co-operative behaviour of the members of these communities. Anthropologists studying present-day survivals of primitive social systems — like the Eskimos, the Bushmen of South West Africa, or the Aborigines of Australia — confirm this. In fact all the evidence amassed on human society and human behaviour suggests no rigid or consistent pattern. Quite the reverse. It points to people being a highly adaptable animal who can survive in and adjust to an immense variety of different circumstances.

So we can list the evidence against the human nature objection to Socialism:
That there have been societies based on voluntary work and free co-operation.
That some work today, for example the dangerous work of manning lifeboats, is done voluntarily.
That there have been societies where there has been free access to some of
the necessities of life.
That those things, such as water from a public drinking tap, that are more or less freely available today are not grabbed or hoarded.

What is more, there is no evidence from genetics, the branch of biology concerned with heredity, that complicated behaviour patterns like being greedy can be inherited. The mechanism by which certain characteristics are inherited is now fairly well known. The sort of characteristics that are inherited are those governing the physical make-up of people. Since the brain is part of the human body this too is inherited, but ideas and complicated patterns of behaviour are not transmitted along with the brain. Each normal human being will inherit a brain that can be trained to think abstractly just as he inherits hands that can be trained to use tools and make things or a voice that can be trained to speak and sing.

A picture of homo sapian's real nature is now emerging. What people inherit are certain physical features and certain capacities. The physical make-up of people merely defines the limits of what he can do, but within those limits people can learn to do anything. We have now come again to the conclusion that human beings are an immensely versatile animal who can learn to live in many different circumstances.

So, from the points of view of both sociology and biology, people are an adaptable animal. Behaviour patterns like aggression are not inherited but learned as are behaviour patterns like friendliness. Humans can be and are both aggressive and friendly; it depends on social circumstances, not on his biological make-up.

The anthropologist Ashley Montagu’s book The Bio-Social Nature of Man well sums up that man is part of nature (biology) but that he develops only it and through society. That mankind is by nature a social animal, in the sense of developing his capacities only through society, is an important point.

What distinguishes human beings from other animals are such features as the ability to think abstractly and the ability to use and make tools. All these thought, speech, and tool-making — are linked. All of them could have developed only through society. It was probably through working to satisfy basic needs that pre homo sapiens developed their brain and hands and so became homo sapiens. Indeed, the basis of all human activity and thought is the way people organise themselves to satisfy such needs as food, clothing and shelter. Human society develops, and human behaviour changes, as the methods men employ to produce wealth develop. Since it is peoplethemselves who change and improve the technical methods and the social organisation of production, we can say, as in the title of another book by the archaeologist V. Gordon Childe, that Man Makes Himself. People changes themselves by changing the environment in which he lives. Such too will be the change from capitalism to socialism. This will be the product of conscious human activity; in changing their environment from class to common property people will at the same time be changing the way they behave or, if you like, changing themselves.

There is nothing in the make-up of human beings that would prevent their freely working together and then freely taking from the common store what they need.

The human nature argument thus out to be, frankly, nonsense. But it is not only false. It is also part of the ideology by which class society and its coercive state machine are justified. Recall what the argument says — that people are lazy, that they are greedy and aggressive — and think what it would mean if it were true.
If people are lazy and will produce wealth only when they are forced to, then if human society is to continue, some must be in a position to force the rest to work. Thus it is natural that human society be divided into rulers and ruled.
If people are greedy then they must be denied free access to the fruits of their labour and allowed only so much as will keep them working. Again, it is natural that society be based on private property and divided into exploiters and exploited.
If people are aggressive then they must be restrained, if human society is not to break up amid chaos. There must be a public power of coercion in the hands of a ruling minority. Thus the state machine and government over people also are natural.

What a convenient theory! Class society, exploitation, and oppression justified as natural! Of course this is no accident. The human nature argument is a ruling-class idea. As long as people believe that Socialism is impossible and that only class and property society is practical the ruling class is safe. Marx pointed out that in a non-revolutionary period the ruling ideas in society are the ideas of the ruling class. The human nature argument is so widespread today because it is a ruling class idea in a pre-revolutionary period.

(Socialist Standard, September 1969)