Wednesday, December 19, 2018

What is Fascism?


Fascism is a political re-organisation of capitalism which occurs in special economic and historic circumstances. The fascists take over the functions of the state and run the country by strong, centralised government. When this happens the working class are usually suffering extreme hardship and insecurity, and it is this factor more than any other which enables political figures like Hitler and Mussolini to point to the failure of democracy within capitalism to solve workers’ problems. This possibility is increased when the population does not have a strong background of democracy as was the case in Germany and Italy. Thus the demagogues are able to insist in the ‘national (capitalist) interest’ that no political or economic opposition can be allowed to rock the boat.

Most certainly fascism is not a new social system distinct from capitalism. In both Germany and Italy the profit motive remained the basis of production while the relationship between capital and labour did not change. What did change was that the state intervened in this to a much greater degree.
Basically, this can be taken as typical of fascist dictatorships. Of course different countries throw up different types since each has its own historical starting point. The Italian brand differed from the German in many ways — for example anti-semitism played no part in Mussolini’s march to power and he openly scoffed at Hitler’s racial theories. So racialism is not a necessary part of fascist propaganda as many believe.

A widely accepted view of fascism is that it represents the last stage of capitalism. The system reaches such a state of crisis that the only way it can continue to produce profit is by invoking fascism to smash the trade union movement and democratic parties in order to keep down working-class demands.

This theory was very popular before the war and was advanced by John Strachey in 1938:

      They [the capitalists] counter-attack because the state of capitalism has become so bad that it . . . can tolerate indefinitely neither the.standards of life . . .  which particular sections of the British workers have won, nor the workers’ liberty to organise politically, industrially and co-operatively for the further improvement of that standard. [1]

In 1968 Chris Harman, a prominent member of ‘International Socialism', wrote:
   
    First, the ruling class has to decide that it can no longer afford liberal democracy. It begins to see even the marginal reforms that reformist Labour parties and trade unions win for workers as a threat to its profits and to its very existence. It is prepared to utilise any means . . . to destroy these organisations. [2]

Even with the advantage of 30 years’ hindsight, Harman’s view is remarkably similar to Strachey’s and both see fascism just like a spook at a seance, hovering, unseen, only waiting for the summons from the capitalist medium.

What neither realised is what part democracy plays in a modern industrial nation like Britain. The capitalist class well recognise the need for opposing viewpoints in the complicated world of today. To say that two heads are better than one may be a cliche, but it makes the possibility of costly and far-reaching mistakes in the economy less likely. Also, the emergent capitalist class, the world over, fought a whole series of revolutions for the right to control their system themselves. They know that once in control of the state machine a dictatorship is extremely difficult to get rid of.

Nor will the other lesson of the German experience be lost on them: that once installed the fascist gang set about enriching themselves at the expense of the whole owning class. One final point on this: in some of those countries which have fascism today, such as Spain and Portugal, the demand for democratic rights and freedom of expression is coming mainly from those who, according to the left, have most to fear from it.

Is it true that fascism triumphant means the working class can be treated any old way: that once trade unions have been destroyed then wages can be cut down to bare subsistence? Of course it is — if the working class allow it! The facts are that in both Germany and Italy the fascists came to power only through working class support. In the March 1933 elections the Nazis polled 44 per cent of the votes: their allies, the Nationalists, got 8 per cent, giving them a clear majority. The Communists, with 12 per cent, were as much in favour of a dictatorship as the Nazis and both sides swopped tens of thousands of votes in that and preceding elections. Obviously there was no great difference in the level of ideas of German workers and there was no outcry from them when the Nazis abolished the trade unions.

Right through the 30s support for Hitler grew because he appeared to be producing what German workers wanted most of all — work. From six million unemployed in January 1933, the figures fell to 70,000 by May 1939. True, wage rates remained at depression level even in boom conditions but the German workers’ attitude was that this was better than ‘starving in freedom’.

Nor does stamping out trade unions mean that workers cannot make demands if they are determined enough although the task is obviously made more difficult. Despite terrible penalties for violating Nazi Labour Laws some German workers did rebel when the screw was turned too much. Munitions workers in the Rheinland in 1936 threatened to strike over a wage decrease and were speedily compensated by a ‘local allowance’. Significantly, those workers who did not threaten strike action had their wages cut. [3] The story was the same in Italy. When, during the war, the fascists lost their popularity many strikes occurred in the north and concessions had to be made. [4]

Support needed

Another factor in determining working-class conditions under fascism is that, unlike trade unions, capitalism’s economic laws cannot be legislated out of exitsence. As labour grew scarce in Germany employers, although forbidden to do so, had to compete for it. If an employer wants workers when none are available then the only way he can get them is from another employer by offering more money, and this sort of thing went on in Nazi Germany. [5]

But wouldn’t a Nazi occupation of Britain during the last war have produced all sorts of outrageous acts against a helpless population? In one country which the Nazis did occupy, Norway, they attempted to coerce the population and destroy the labour movement. But the people there, with a long history of democracy in their social arrangements, resisted to such an extent that the Nazis had to back down on many occasions. Hostages were taken and sometimes shot, but this only increased hostility and a dead working class is of no use to any ruling group. [6] In the long run, the actions of fascist regimes are largely determined by the level of acceptance of the population.

So fascism is not something which can simply be imposed from above. It must have massive working-class support such as it enjoyed in Germany and Italy. Were the Nazis recruited from the capitalists? Did Mussolini’s Blackshirts have a non-working-class membership? And who comprised the pre-war Mosleyites in Britain? The majority of all these organisations came from the ranks of those who have to sell their physical and mental energies for a wage or salary in order to live. This applies even though many European fascists came from the peasantry and other fast-vanishing social groups. Without ignorance to batten onto, fascism is a dead duck. It is these which opportunist politicians utilise for their own ends: for example it is doubtful whether Enoch Powell is really a racialist.

Having said all this, workers should of course avoid fascism like the plague. Undoubtedly it has caused the greatest suffering and horror and another dose could put back the growth of socialist ideas for decades. How best then to fight it? The extreme left say there is only one way: by emulating the fascists themselves and using physical force to win control of the streets. But this is precisely what the fascists want since it turns working-class attention to strong men with law-and-order solutions. And since most workers probably have some colour prejudice and know little about politics then it is to the side with the simplest-sounding and most backward programme that they will turn. The recent student upheavals have produced a serious working-class backlash in America, West Germany, and Britain. In France the aftermath of May 1968 has seen existing democratic rights threatened at the insistence of the workers themselves. A majority of French workers are now in favour of banning all political discussion from universities.

This is not to say that the streets cannot be used by socialists at all. They can, but in the way the Socialist Party of Great Britain uses them today—to oppose fascism and all other anti-working-class ideas by propagating the case for one world, one people. This may not sound so glamorous as street fighting and breaking up fascist meetings, which despite leftist hysteria remain few and far between, but it is the only effective way. Tactics like those used by the Yellow Star movement during the political punch-ups of 1962 cause a resurgence, not a diminishing, of fascist numbers and activity. [8]

Will fascism come to Britain? At present this seems very unlikely but it is not impossible. Historically, the end of Empire has provided a factor not there before—a wave of coloured immigrants as scapegoats for workers’ social and economic grievances. This, plus the growing disillusion with the democratic process caused by the dismal failure of the major political parties, could lead many to see a fascist political solution as the only answer.

The fascist threat will last as long as capitalism itself. The answer lies not in futile struggling against effects but to establish a society based on production for use and universal brotherhood which is only possible when the world's workers understand and desire it. As this will require knowledge rather than physical strength we emphasise that the battleground is the minds of men and not the streets.   

Vic Vanni


REFERENCES
[1] What Are We To Do? Left Book Club edition P146
[2] Socialist Worker No. 84, June 1968
[3] Big Business in the Third Reich. A. Schweitzer P386
[4] Italian Labour Movement. D. L Horowitz P182
[5] Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. W. L Shirer P263
[6] Unarmed Against Fascism. A. K. Jameson (Peace News pamphlet)
[7] The Guardian, October 2, 1968
[8] Tribune (letter from Councillor W. G. Russell). Also, see Action, October 1, 1962

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Needs-Oriented Society

All over the world, the present economic system plunders the planet's non-renewable mineral and energy sources. All over the world, it pollutes the sea, the air, the soil, forests, rivers, and lakes. All over the world it upsets natural balances and defies the laws of ecology. Clearly this destruction and waste cannot continue indefinitely, but it need not; it should not and must not.

It is quite possible to meet the basic material needs of every man, woman and child on this planet without destroying the natural systems on which we depend and of which we are a part.

1. The practice of types of farming that preserve and enhance the natural fertility of the soil;
2. The systematic recycling of materials (such as metals and glass) obtained from non-renewable mineral sources;
3. Developing energy sources base upon natural processes that continually renew themselves (such as solar energy, wind power, and hydroelectricity);
4. The implementation of industrial processes which avoids the release of poisonous chemicals or radioactivity into the biosphere;
5. The manufacture of products made to last, not to be thrown away after use or deliberately to break down after a calculated period of time.

So what stands in the way? Why isn’t this done? The simple answer is that, under the present economic system, production is not geared to meeting human needs but rather to the accumulation of monetary wealth out of profits. As a result, not only are basic needs far from satisfied but much of what is produced is pure waste from this point of view—for example, all the resources involved in commerce and finance, the mere buying and selling of things and those poured into armaments. The whole system of production, from the methods employed to the choice of what to produce, is distorted by the imperative drive to pursue economic growth for its own sake and to give priority to seeking profits to fuel this growth without consideration for the longer term factors that ecology teaches are vitally important. The result is an economic system governed by blind economic laws which oblige decision-makers, however, selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste. This growth-oriented and profit-motivated capitalist system exist all over the world, in the West in the form of an economy dominated by large multinational corporations.

If needs are to be met while at the same time respecting the laws of nature, then this system must go. If we are to meet our needs in an ecologically acceptable way we must first be able to control production—or, put another way, able to consciously regulate our interaction with the rest of nature—and the only basis on which this can be done is the common ownership of the means of production. By common ownership, we don’t mean state-owned property. We mean simply that the Earth and its natural and industrial resources should no longer belong to anyone—not to individuals, not to corporations, not to the state. No person or group should have exclusive controlling rights over their use; instead of how they are used and under what conditions should be decided democratically by the community as a whole. Under these conditions, the whole concept of legal property rights, whether private or state, over the means of production disappears and is replaced by democratically decided rules and procedures governing their use.

This is why a fully democratic decision-making structure must be an essential feature of the system that is to replace capitalism. The centralised, coercive political state must be dismantled and replaced by a decision-making structure in which everyone is free to participate on an equal basis. It is possible to envisage, for instance, the local community being the basic unit of this structure. In this case, people would elect a local council to co-ordinate and administer those local affairs that could not be dealt with by a general meeting of the whole community. This council would in its turn send delegates to a regional council for matters concerning a wider area and so on up to a world council responsible for matters that could best be dealt with on a world scale 
(such as the supply of certain key minerals and fuels, the protection of the biosphere, the mining and farming of the oceans, and space research). Given the replacement of the coercive political state by such a democratic decision-making structure, the network of productive units could then be geared to meeting needs. We deliberately use the word “geared” here because what we envisage is not the organisation of the production and distribution of goods by some central planning authority but the setting up of a mechanism, a system of links between productive units, which would enable the productive network to respond in a flexible way to the demands for goods and services communicated to it.

In the needs-oriented society, we are describing here the concept of “profits” would be meaningless while the imperative to “growth” would disappear. Instead, after an initial increase in production needed to provide the whole world’s population with an infrastructure of basic services (such as farms, housing, transport and water supplies) production can be expected to platform off at a level sufficient to provide for current needs and repairing and maintaining the existing stock of means of production. What is envisaged here is a society able to sustain a stable relationship with nature in which the needs of its members would be in balance with the capacity of nature to renew itself after supplying them.

ROUGH WINDS DO SHAKE THE DARING BIDS OF MAY! (weekly poem)


ROUGH WINDS DO SHAKE THE DARING BIDS OF MAY!
(apologies to the Bard)

Image from Pixabay

Although Mrs May secured a majority in the 1922 Committee
vote to remain as leader, it was on the basis that she steps
down as the Prime Minister for the next General Election,
irrespective of any last minute bids to improve the Brexit deal.

Shall I compare thee to a winter's day?
Thou art more lonely and more desperate:
Rough winds do shake the daring bids of May
The P.M.’s lease hath all too short a date:
Once hot the aye for Brexit barely shines,
Too often now it's fools-gold has been dimmed.
The bright forecast continually declines,
As folk realise, at last, they're being skimmed:
Thus May's infernal bummer will soon fade,
She'll lose possession of the Ulster coast;
And soon will wander in the nameless shade
Ignored by everyone that heard her boast:
So long as folk can breathe or eyes can see,
She'll be lampooned along with Mrs T.!

© Richard Layton

What We Mean By Socialism

In socialism there will be no social organ of coercion — in short, no state, not even a so-called “workers’ state” — and so no police, no armed forces, no courts, no prisons, no machinery to coerce people to do what they might not want to do.

Socialism will be a stateless society in which people will co-operate, on the basis of common ownership and democratic control. to produce what they need as individuals and as communities. This co-operation will be entirely voluntary and so will have to be undertaken because people want to because they realise that it is necessary and in their best self-interest. In other words, because they have a socialist understanding.

Clearly, since such a society can only function with the voluntary co-operation and conscious participation of its members, it can only be established by people who want it and who understand all its implications. By definition, socialism cannot be established by a minority. It is just absurd — a contradiction in terms — to suggest that some minority could force the majority to co-operate voluntarily.

Socialism will be a stateless society because it will be a classless society — classless because it will be based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Or, put another way, the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth — the land, the farms, the mines, the factories, the offices, the warehouses, means of transport and communications will belong to nobody. There will be no private or state property rights over them. They will simply be there, to be used by the members of society to produce what they require to satisfy their needs. The concept of “property” will be replaced by that of “use”; legal property rights enforceable by the state will give way to democratically-agreed rules for using the means of production, a situation summed up by the term “democratic control”.

Since capitalism — the social system which will be replaced by socialism — is already a world-wide system, so will socialism be. It will be a world community in which all that is in and on the earth will have become the common heritage of all humanity. Territorial rights over parts of the globe will disappear along with property rights.

On the basis of common ownership and democratic control, production can be reoriented towards what is, after all, its natural goal: to provide the useful things that human beings need to live and enjoy life. In other words, production for profit, production for sale, and production for the market will give way to production solely and directly for use. In fact profits, sales, markets — and money, wages, banks and all the other paraphernalia of buying and selling — will completely disappear in socialism. It will be a moneyless society in which goods will be produced and distributed simply to satisfy some human need or other.

In socialism, just as money and monetary calculation will disappear from the sphere of production, so they will disappear from the sphere of distribution too. Here the rule will be free access according to self-defined needs. People will be able to go into stores and take what they need without having to hand over either money or some “labour card” or any other kind of ration ticket. This will be possible, firstly, because the elimination of capitalism will enable society to produce enough to satisfy the material needs of everyone; and secondly because contrary to the myths maintained by the defenders of capitalism and class society generally, people’s material needs are not infinite.

So the main features of socialism are world community, common ownership, democratic control, production for use, free access. It only remains to add that socialism is an immediate possibility. All the conditions for its establishment are present except one — precisely the majority socialist understanding we have been discussing. In other words, as soon as this last condition is met. as soon as a majority of wage and salary earners want and understand socialism, it can be established immediately, without any so-called “transition period”.

 From an editorial in No. 979 March 1986 Socialist Standard

Monday, December 17, 2018

Migration as Beneficial

Of the 258 million international migrants globally, 36 million live in Africa, with 19 million living in another African country and 17 million in Europe, North America and other regions, Ashraf El Nour, Director of IOM, New York, informed Africa Renewal.

“The narrative of migrants as a threat, as a source of fear, which has colored international media coverage on migration, is false,” said Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), a UN body that deals with trade, investment and development issues, in an interview with Africa Renewal.


Negative attitudes or even violence against migrants typically stem from fears that they take jobs away from native-born citizens or that they engage in criminal activities, according to a study by the South Africa–based Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), a statutory research agency.
In the HSRC study, which focused on South Africans’ attitudes toward immigrants, 30% of the public blamed foreigners for “stealing jobs from hardworking South Africans,” while another 30% pointed to immigrants’ criminal activities.
But IOM South Africa countered that “immigration does not harm the long-term employment prospects or wages of native-born workers,” adding that “migrants are twice as likely to be entrepreneurs [as] South African nationals.” The South African government regularly condemns xenophobic attacks.
Mr. Kituyi said that most migration studies focus on “the plight of migrants, the crisis of international solidarity or humanitarian challenges.” He wished that more attention were paid to migration from the perspective of economic development.
Ms. LĂșcia Kula, an Angolan migrant who is a researcher in the UK, concurred, adding that conversations about migration should shift to the migrants’ contributions to their new society.
“One of the main things they [immigrants] do in the economies they get into is create value. They enter niches where they are more competitive…and it can boost the local economy,” Mr. Kituyi elaborated.
Many migrants are talented professionals and offer expert services in their new countries. Iso Paelay, for example, left Liberia in the heat of the war in the 90s and resettled in Ghana, where he became a star presenter for TV3, a leading media house in the country. Apparently, Liberia’s loss was Ghana’s gain.
Mr. Kituyi points to a phenomenon of migrants going to other countries to engage in the ethnic food business. “They start creating routes to get food from their home country,” he said. Ethiopian restaurants in Nairobi, Kenya, including Abyssinia, Habesha and Yejoka Garden, serve Ethiopian dishes such as injera.
Abuja International Restaurant in Union, New Jersey, sells Nigerian food such as eba, amala and fufu and the popular beer Gulder. In New York, Africans and others throng “Little Senegal,” a single street in Harlem, to shop for anything African—foodstuffs, music CDs, hair products, religious items and finely tailored clothes.
While working hard, earning money and making contributions to their new countries, African migrants also “remit small monies back home to support their families,” explained Mr. Kituyi. “Eighty-five percent [of immigrants’ earnings] goes to the host country and 15% to the country of origin through remittances.”
In 2017, remittance flows from migrants to sub-Saharan Africa were $38 billion, reports the World Bank. That is more than the $25 billion official development aid (ODA) to the region that year.

Discontent in Hungary over slave law

A wave of protests has been triggered by an amendment to Hungarian labor law, now known to the public as the "slave law," which was passed in parliament last week. The law increases the possible number of overtime hours per year per employee from 250 to 400. At the same time, employers can now take three years instead of one year to pay overtime. The amendment was passed over massive protests by trade unions, the opposition and civil organizations. 
The right to strike has been severely restricted and companies pay lower taxes in Hungary than anywhere else in the EU. Hungarian trade unions are now weak and politically fragmented. But now, a part of the Hungarian public is directing all of their anger toward the "slave law." The amendment is putting major social problems — which Orban's system has created in the first place — on the shoulders on employees and doing so in a brazen way that many consider humiliating. Over the past eight years, some 600,000 mostly well-educated citizens have migrated from Hungary because of the oppressive political climate, the poor organization and underfunding of some parts of the education and health care systems, and the high dependence of private companies on government support. Now the government apparently wants to combat the massive labor shortage simply by increasing overtime.
The Orban government responded in its own usual way: It claimed the protests were initiated by billionaire George Soros and the forces behind him, as well as by people who want to flood Hungary with migrants. 

A discussion between Jonathan Porritt and the Socialist Party (1987)

Many activists in the green movement have not realised that the Socialist Party has long been focussed on the problem and has been offering its analyses for a long time.

This is an interview conducted with Jonathon Porritt, a prominent and respected spokesperson within the environmentalists. The interview is dated from August 1987, over thirty years ago. We maintain that our argument remains even more relevant for today.

Green Reform or Socialist Revolution

Socialist Standard: Can I begin by saying that the Socialist Party, which we’re representing, differs from other political parties and organisations on what you call the left, by advocating something different: a non market society, a society of free access to goods and services. with production for use and not for profit. Now a number of things you're on record as saying ring a fair number of bells with people in the Socialist Party and people who are sympathetic with the Socialist case. For example, you're on record as saying that you favour the transition from production for profit to production for need. Now how do you envisage this can come about within the context of a society based on buying and selling and wages and salaries? The Socialist Party wants that as well, it wants production for need, but we don't think this is possible within the context of a society where you've got a means of exchange, where you've got buying and selling, where you've got the need built into it — regardless of the will of individuals — to make profit.

Jonathon Porritt: It depends what level you're talking about. If you're talking about an improvement in the existing situation, which is what essentially Friends of the Earth is talking about, it is quite conceivable to imagine patching the system up and improving it and making it more responsive to environmental considerations, so that the appalling damage that's being done and the appalling waste and the abuse of people and earth is mitigated. ameliorated. At that level, one can argue quite conventionally about the ways in which the existing system can be adapted or reformed to do a slightly better job than it's doing now. At another level, which concerned me most before I came to Friends of the Earth, the level of deep Green politics rather than light Green politics, which is what we here at Friends of the Earth are primarily about — at that deeper level, there isn't any way of fudging with this existing system. It is not amenable to reform in such a way and to such a degree as to allow for fundamental ecological priorities to come to fruition.

Socialist Standard: What follows from that, then, if you say it's not amenable to reform?

Jonathon Porritt: What follows from that is that the system absolutely has to go. The nub of it for us, for me as a Green, is that the productivist system that we have now, the system that depends upon an expansion of the process of production and consumption as a good thing in itself but is primarily geared towards exchange rather than anything else, as a way of generating "wealth' — that system is not compatible with a finite planet and it doesn't matter how often technology steps in and seems to persuade us that we can overcome some of this finite nature. It doesn't matter how many times one resource seems to substitute for another if one is running short. It doesn't matter how often there seems to be a technological fix that persuades us that we human beings don't have to change our ways. Ultimately, the nub of the reality for Greens is that we have only a certain resource base to use; you can either use that resource base to promote the kind of appallingly inequitable and destructive system that we have now. or you use the resource base to meet the needs of all people on earth.

Socialist Standard: What stands in the way of our doing that then?

Jonathon Porritt: So much that I can't help but sometimes get depressed. What stands immediately in the way in terms of political perceptions and political realities is a very strong feeling that we have, and I suspect that you may have, that there isn't a great deal to differentiate between what is on offer from the Labour Party and what is on offer from the other parties. This is largely because their area of autonomous operation within the existing international and economic order is tiny and it doesn't actually matter very much whether they talk about wider distribution of ownership in this country, or whether they talk about more production for need in this country. They are still locked into an international economic order which demands of all its participants that the resources they have at their disposal, both human and physical, are converted into a form of wealth that is not directly geared to meeting needs, but is directly geared towards creating profits. When I read the learned and wise, so-called radical, words of opposition parties in this country — not your party, I agree, but the people who call themselves the opposition in this country nowhere is there a perception that they are the slaves of that system, as much as the Conservatives are the willing protagonists of the system. That is a very, very important point of principle for me as a Green. Therefore, to end this point, when one talks about production for use or production for need, it is far more than what it has become in the Labour Party. To them it is essentially a bit of history, which needs to be trotted out from time to time because that is the way many of the ideas in the Labour Party develop, but it is not a meaningful concept when you actually look at the Labour Party's economic and industrial policies.

Socialist Standard: But we've been saying that a revolutionary change is the only way to solve the problems that arise under capitalism since 1904 and movement after movement, reform campaign after reform campaign, has arisen over those years. If in fact attention had been paid to the fundamentals, then maybe we'd be nearer a solution.

Jonathon Porritt: I don't dispute that. I'm fairly well aware of that and obviously I live with that reality day to day myself. To answer the question from a personal point of view, I would not myself dismiss the work of people who are in the reform area as worthless. But I also know the forces that we're up against and I know that we cannot sit around waiting for a Green society to happen, or indeed pit ourselves against some of those forces, unless we are at the same time attempting to do something about the most pressing problems that we're up against at the moment. And there are a very large number of people involved in reformist work of one kind or another which does not rule out awareness on their part, and a commitment on their part, to an extremely radical change in the system But their perception is — and this is a question of personal judgement — that their energy and their efforts are, given the existing status quo, better used, in the short and medium term, on doing that kind of work, rather than on committing themselves to a political revolution as you call it, which, a lot of people have come to accept, will never come about in this country. Unless, that is, there is some desperate, juddering, ghastly collapse of the system. that brings people head-on against reality.

Ideology of Money


Socialist Standard: But even so. revolution is conceived in people's minds normally as a change of government. Now in relation to this, if I can come back to something which you said a little bit earlier, what it seems to me you said is that there's an ideology which embraces all the well-known political parties whether right or left. This is an ideology of growth: they're locked into this international economic system and there's no way out of it for them. Can I ask you about an ideology that is equally all-embracing? That is the ideology that we've got to base our relationships, personal and economic, on money, on this money-bound mode of thinking, the idea that we need a society in which buying and selling is paramount, a society in which we've got to work for wages, in which there have got to be employees and employers. It seems to me that this is a super-ideology which in a way goes far deeper than the ideology of growth. What would be your reaction to the suggestion that we should do away with the ideology of buying and selling and working for wages, as well as the ideology of growth?

Jonathon Porritt: The idea of wages, and the notion that every working person has a price, as it were, or a monetized value, is something which I personally do not find a lot of sympathy with. If you look at the way in which work patterns are emerging in the future, there is just as much of a potential for a complete revolution in work attitudes, and what work is all about, as there is for a tightening of the existing capitalist system.

Socialist Standard: How close are the trade unions to recognising that? Do you say you've moved a little bit nearer or there's a little more sympathy within trade union circles to Greens?

Jonathan Porritt: I've got no false expectations there. When it's a question of wages, salaries etc. then my feeling is that there is scope for a tremendously exciting shift in attitudes, so that work ceases to be the debased way in which people assess someone's merit or someone's value in society merely according to how much they can earn. And work becomes again what I have always felt it should be — probably from a hopelessly old-fashioned point of view — an essential part of the way in which a human being expresses his or her ability to serve other people, to enrich their lives, to improve their community and so on. You can't talk about Green attitudes towards employment and the economy unless that shift of attitudes towards work is at the back of it. On the question of buying and selling things: I don't feel confident enough about how alternatives to that might come about to argue that as part of Green politics. We would have to look very carefully at barter economies and the way in which they developed up until the point where local scale markets developed, quite organically, in a quite different way from what "the market" means today (which is a real non-word — it isn't a market at all).

Socialist Standard: Can I interrupt to say we're not talking about barter; what we're talking about is production directly for use.

Jonathon Porritt: Ah. but then you're coming back to something that I think we have already agreed on — the concept that the resources of a society could be so geared that they were primarily directed at meeting need rather than creating money through salaries or wages, or creating surplus through profits or whatever else it might be. Now that is a different way of looking at it, but money might still be involved.

A Society of Free Access


Socialist Standard: Well, what is the objection to free access to what is produced, without the intermediary of money, or barter? Money is simply a sophisticated form of barter. If one excludes barter altogether either in the form of goods or of money, what is the objection to people producing what they need in the quantities that they need and simply taking those things as necessary? The objection people often put — that people arc naturally greedy — I presume would not be put by people in the Green movement because it would be quite a damning one. Our argument is that people are made greedy by the circumstances in which they find themselves. But what's the objection to that kind of arrangement?

Jonathon Porritt: The objection, which I'm sure you've encountered just as often as we have, is your interpretation of need and the extent to which one person's interpretation of need might be another person's interpretation of greed or simple want, rather than need. A lot of work in the Green movement, particularly in terms of international economics and developing world economics, has gone into the whole definition of need. How can you use that word with any sense of it being applicable objectively to every person in a country, let alone to every country on this earth? How can one actually use that word as an absolute standard, where you can lay down what a person's needs are?

Socialist Standard: We're talking about self-determined need. I don't think you can talk about it in any other way. because you can't lay down what somebody else's needs are.

Jonathon Porritt: But are you talking about that? Because I honestly feel that that's questionable.

Socialist Standard: Yes. that is our conception, that that is the proper basis of human society meeting needs.

Jonathon Porritt: Right, but then your point about human nature becomes not only important, but all-important. Unless one is able to see human nature as a totally different potentiality from what it is now. It would be fine if, expressed and articulated in a different society with a different set of values and a different set of priorities, human nature allowed for self-determined need to flourish as a principle. But then I would have to put it to you — and this is, I feel, more on the basis of ten years' experience as a teacher, rather than three years' experience as Director of Friends of the Earth — the reality of it is that every single one of the major shaping influences in our society at the moment, from top to bottom, tends to reinforce a concept of need which is not self-determined, which is culturally and socially determined in the most destructive way. destructive both of human dignity and of the planet.

Class Society


Socialist Standard: We hold that the shaping influences can be lumped together as the influences emanating from one class — those people who take the decisions that production shall proceed on the basis of profit. So it is that class which shapes ideas and therefore we see a class-divided society. It's not a social or an emotional thing. It's a rational analysis and until that class, who are in a position of power and can determine what production is undertaken and so on, and until that social system with that kind of minority authority is altered, nothing will change.

Jonathon Porritt: I don't hold to that view, and I personally believe that some of the things that are holding back a change in the nature of the debate, the political debate in this country, are the way in which we get hooked on the class issue before we are able to move through to what I consider to be the real issue, which is that of who holds power. I don't share your perception that the only people who hold power in our society are those from a certain class and that they use that power permanently to keep other people disempowered. From my perception of it, from the perception of an ecologist, there is no justification for that theory when one looks at patterns of damage and the ways in which different economies, left and right, are able to put people into positions of power in such a way that they use that power against the interests of the majority of people and against the interests of the planet. When you look at the power base in Eastern Europe, it's obviously structured in a different way than it is in the West, but it shares so many points in common that although you may not be able to spot a class system emerging in quite the same sense . . .

Socialist Standard: Oh, but we do.

Jonathon Porritt: I would have some difficulty about that. 1 would call it a caste system, rather than class. I would say you're using the concept of class in an inaccurate way. What you're talking about is those who are allowed in these different political systems to dominate others through the power that they have and through their capacity to disempower others. That I would share with you; I don't actually believe that that's any longer the sole prerogative of any one class. And if you look at this country, at the extent to which not just the upper classes are involved in this continued oppression of people but others, other people who don't necessarily fit into that category, one has to raise the notion that the so-called leaders of the working class have actually done as much to destroy the potential for a genuine liberation of politics in this country as the so-called leaders of the upper classes.

Socialist Standard: Trade union leaders are in the business of maintaining the price of labour, as an element in the capitalist system, so of course they're locked into the system as well.

Jonathon Porritt: But if the word class means anything, one would have to say that they feel an affinity with that class of people. Now that's why to a certain extent your own analysis may be suggesting that we may need to move beyond the very simplistic way in which class is used as a concept in British politics, and get back to the thing that underlies class, underlies privilege, caste, all the rest of it, whatever the determinant may be that puts one person in power over another, and get back to that issue of power.

Socialist Standard: Can I say that we argue that a class is a group of people that has economic interests in common, and therefore we define the owning class, the capitalist class if you like, as those who own and/or control the means of production. And in Britain you've got maybe 10 per cent of the population who are in the position of being able to survive without having to work, because they have the means to do so through dividends or whatever other unearned forms of income come to them. In Russia the situation is not one of people owning in a legal way but in a de facto way, of controlling the means of production and in so doing having privileges which in effect make them into an owning class, into a capitalist class, even if they're not called that


An Alternative Value System

Socialist Standard: But perhaps I could come back briefly to one thing you said earlier, and that was basically "the world's in a mess", that people's values are on the whole fairly negative, and people are being encouraged to move in directions which all ecologically-minded people would deprecate, and this comes from values which we'd essentially be against. Now what we'd advocate would be a society of self-determined need. Now if at present what we've got is a society where people aren't capable of determining their own needs because of the pressures upon them, surely the logical answer to that is for those who are in favour of a society of self-determined need to advocate that. They should do as much as possible to make people see that it would be in their interest and in the interest of the community as a whole to have that kind of society, rather than the kind of society we've got at present where people are at one another's throats and encouraged to have values which are not in their own individual interests and not in the social interest.

Jonathon Porritt: I couldn't agree with you more, but what lies behind your question is the suggestion that unless you're doing that full time everything else which you do is going to be second-best. Now I wouldn't agree with that because I feel very strongly that there are so many different ways in which one can encourage people to come to that perception. I don't believe that the only way in which you can do that is by beating them over the head with a different political ideology. And I actually believe that there may be many more indirect ways of eroding that value system, by holding it up to inspection so that people begin to question whether or not it's any longer valid for them. And that's what I meant when I said that Friends of the Earth is not just a reformist organisation, not just a single-issue campaigning pressure group, but actually has a deeper goal behind it. namely to suggest that today's environmental problems are symptoms of a system that is suffering a profound breakdown or malaise, and that system is in the state of crisis it's in because of the values that dominate our society. As an ecologist, one is then able to touch upon alternative value systems, which would give greater priority to things like: concepts of inter-generational equity, how one generation is responsible for the well-being of the next by the use that it makes of the resources available to us; how one can talk about the distribution of wealth North and South, not just in a charitable syndrome. i.e. we owe them more because we're rich and they're poor, but in terms of the way in which the earth's wealth has been ripped away from them by us and is still being done so, so much to their detriment that it's now impossible for many of those countries even to contemplate the beginnings of a sustainable future. And all of those ways of talking about equity and justice, which start from ecological underpinning, and yet still lead through to the same point that you started out at, namely that today's value system is both immoral and unsustainable — that is something that Friends of the Earth can do.

I'm sure that one of the things we would have in common is a grave concern about the level of political debate in this country, which in my opinion is a source of genuine despair. So many people see it as a kind of abstract thing up there, "let the politicians get on with it, it's nothing to do with us, well live our life" — that is a real problem.

But you're quite right to call organisations like Friends of the Earth to book and say, How can what you do be more effective than going out there and pitching the challenge absolutely directly and not in the faintly mealy-mouthed way — which I would acknowledge — that we sometimes use. I wouldn't necessarily defend our line to the hilt, but I would say, from our experience, that it is a question of finding the most effective way of reaching different kinds of people

Reform or Revolution?

Socialist Standard: Many people have said to us: we agree with your ideas, and we think as a long term goal they're very laudable, and we want to work towards them. At the same time, there are lots of other things that need to be done in the meantime, and we're going to do those as well. In other words we re going to engage in 50/50 activity — 50 per cent reform, short-term activity, 50 per cent long-term, revolutionary activity. In actual practice, what happens is that within a very short time those people are thoroughly, 100 per cent engaged in the reform activity because it takes all their time and all their energies, and the long-term revolutionary activity gets completely forgotten. The German SPD Party once had these revolutionary aims of the abolition of the wages system and a society of free access; they were finally removed but these date back to the end of the nineteenth century; people in the nineteenth century actually had these ideas. So the reason why we in the Socialist Party say. No, we've got to keep our ideas in clear, logical focus is that otherwise they get lost completely. Not only do we not advance the idea of Socialism as a wageless, moneyless society, a marketless society. with self-determined needs, but we actually put it back; there's not even anybody there to put the case.

Jonathon Porritt: I'm certainly not critical of you and indeed the party for the position that it takes there. I've always said this, that there is a need for that kind of expression, a very important need. What I'm trying to put to you is that it's a bit of a vicious circle because you are dependent upon so many people making that their priority that the thing assumes a different status in society, it assumes a different level of credibility. Until that threshold is reached, an awful lot of us say. "Yes. but it isn't possible psychologically and personally endlessly to go on re-motivating, re-committing, spending literally 18 hours of every single day of the year putting one's heart and soul into doing the kind of thing you're doing. You must have attainable, shorter-term goals than the longer-term revolutionary change. I couldn't have gone on much longer in the Green Party, at the level of involvement I had there, because there wasn't any short-term achievable goal; it was all very much pitched at the same level that you're talking about. I'm still obviously very committed to the goals and the ideals of the Green Party, and I feel I'm still working for those goals and ideals by working here. Everything I do here, however short-term, reformist, opportunistic. and pragmatic it may sometimes be, I justify because all of the shorter-term things that we do I see as very humble, but nonetheless extremely important, steps on the path towards achieving that broader, more revolutionary framework.

Socialist Standard: And the things that in a revolutionised society would be done as a matter of course, without having to apply pressure to achieve them.

Jonathon Porritt: Precisely. But it's become impossible for me to work in any other way, because of the pain that we cause by so abusing each other and so abusing the earth, that we're incapable of seeing how different it could be. I can't claim any major revolutionary breakthroughs in Friends of the Earth over the last three years, but I can claim on behalf of the organisation some small improvement in things that would otherwise be worse than they are. And I personally feel that's better than not having done it. It's not much of a difference — I don't deny it. In terms of moving the world forward to some of those goals that we might have in common, I don't have any pretensions that I've achieved very much over the last three years.

Socialist Standard: We'd argue that this vicious circle does exist, and unless we break out of it by a sufficient number of people espousing the more long distance course, we're always going to be in a position where people say, 'Well I'll do something else in the meantime', and we'll never reach the position where the thing can really take off.

Jonathon Porritt: I agree. I can't get through that one myself. I'm not being despairing or fatalistic about it, but I can't deny the reality of what you're saying. I can't actually see a solution to it.

Interviewers
Howard Moss
Pat Wilson


Organise for a Better Life


Cop24 has concluded its negotiations. The difficult issues such as how to scale up existing commitments on cutting emissions, in line with stark scientific advice, and how to provide finance for poor countries to do the same, were put off for future years. The only thing that counts is cold, hard, day-to-day business. Coal is still cheap in comparison and will continue to be so unless heavy taxes are imposed on greenhouse gas emissions. And the Arab states, the US, Russia, the Eastern Europeans and Germany have opposed such taxes, as well as any idea of politically imposing an end to the use of coal and oil, despite the fact that experts know that coal's days are numbered and that it's hardly worth making any new investment in it. All over the world, emissions continue to rise: from vehicles, airplanes, ships. And that's why little progress is being made right now in climate protection.  Climate change is a global problem that can be resolved only if all countries work together. This is often said, but it is, quite simply, the truth. But the other truth is that capitalism has ensured that each and every nation is a rival and vye with with one another for their own economic benefit. Each delegation to those COP conferences possess its own domestic interests.

Nicholas Stern, the former World Bank chief economist and author of a seminal review of the economics of climate change, said: “It is clear that the progress we are making is inadequate, given the scale and urgency of the risks we face. The latest figures show carbon dioxide emissions are still rising. A much more attractive, clean and efficient path for economic development and poverty reduction is in our hands.”

Johan Rockstrom, director designate at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “My biggest concern is that the UN talks failed to align ambitions with science. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events hit people across the planet already, at only 1C of warming.”
Greens are committed to a gradualist, reformist strategy: seeking support on the basis of a programme of environmentalist reforms.  Such a strategy won’t work as it is setting out to impose on capitalism something that is incompatible with its nature. They would sooner or later come up against this restraint and learn that they could not proceed except at the expense of provoking an economic crisis, as inevitably happens when governments try to make the profit system work other than as a profit system.
 Green activists are facing the same choice of strategy as did the first socialists in Britain at the end of the 19th century: to build up support on the basis of the maximum programme of fundamental social change and remain small till people have become convinced of the need for the change in question or to build up support on the basis of reforms within the system and grow faster but at the price of abandoning the maximum programme or relegating it to a vague remote, non-operational long-term objective.
 In "The Coming of the Greens" Jonathan Porritt and David Winner they write environmentalism “is essentially a reformist movement, based on the premise that industrialism can be perfected, or at least improved, to the point where it no longer endangers the environment”. Greens who want a radical transformation of the world can stick to their principles but come to realise, as the Socialist Party has done, that a sustainable society can only be achieved within the context of a world in which all the Earth’s resources, natural and industrial, have become the common heritage, under democratic control at local, regional and world level, of all humanity.
Over and over again we see a similar theme. The new society will come about through people undergoing change individually. Once enough people have changed radically enough, a new society will spontaneously evolve which will reflect the healthy characteristics of these new persons. Well, what’s wrong with that? Don’t socialists want people to change before we can hope to bring socialism into existence. Well yes, but we see changing present-day society as rather different. To get socialism you need a majority of workers in the world who are clear beforehand of how they see a new society working. But environmental  writers are prepared to accept that big improvements can be brought about in the way people relate without radically changing society first. The problem is how it’s supposed to bring about social transformation is that changing the person's lifestyle  often becomes a lot more important than changing society. Capitalism is a world economic system, it isn’t just a scatter of individuals.  Unless we change the whole obscene system, there will always be serious limits to what “enlightened” individuals can achieve when they try to humanize its consequences. Socialists argue that unless you change the way that things are produced and distributed, social problems will always come up no matter how in touch we are with nature.  Attempting to get rid of human misery by giving people a list of lifestyle reforms is like trying to cure cholera by treating each individual case. It may help a few people, but in the long run it’s far better to clean up the water supply, or in the case of society, end capitalism. As long as things are produced to make a profit, the poor will stay poor, work will be boring and arduous, states will go to war to win economic influence, and valuable resources will be used up persuading us to buy things we don’t want or need.  Any system based on private property and money is too inflexible to ever meet fully people’s needs.  Unless we’re clear on the sort of society we want, we can all end up being pulled in a variety of ways. We need to start to talk about a revolution in social relations. Unless we challenge the basis of capitalism our ideas will be incorporated into the very society that we have set out to revolutionise.
The Socialist Party believe that you share our concern for the well-being of people in our society for the welfare of Earth itself and all its dependants. We appeal to you as members of a long-established independent democratic movement which seeks by persuasion and worlds-wide peaceful political organisation to transform our present society into one fit for humankind. The problems of our planet cannot be solved within the existing structures of production and government. Our world is divided into national areas dominated by class minorities in each country, which, either by private or corporate ownership or by state bureaucratic parties monopolise the means of production. Our access to food, clothing, shelter and other needs is rationed by money. It is a world-system based upon the class monopoly of the means of production where things are produced and services rendered as commodities for sale at a profit. Labour-power also is a commodity; its price is what we receive as a wage or salary. The class interests, values and drive for profit of the world-system have been the underlying reasons for the unprecedented destruction of life and resources throughout this century. This appalling process, made worse by new forms of pollution, including the cutting-down of the rain forests. This uncontrolled madness will continue unless we take the necessary democratic action to transform our way of life throughout the planet.
The Socialist Party believes that socialism can only be brought about by an overwhelming majority of the population, a majority which understands why capitalism must be replaced by socialism. If we are to bring into being production solely for use, where needs are self-determined, we must have a clear idea of how such a society could be established, organised and sustained. We must also ensure that the values and methods of the World Socialist Movement are fully consistent with its aims. Socialism is a new world society where the means of production are commonly owned and where governments and systems of exchange, whether barter or money, have been replaced by democratic administration at local, regional and world levels: a society where there could be decentralised co-ordination of production with free access according to need.
Why have previous attempts to build a better world failed? In our view the terrible events of the twentieth century are in part a consequence of the fact that most of those who sought to ameliorate the lot of the majority had no clear alternative distinct from some form of the system of nations, of wage labour and capital, of money, prices, profits, of buying and selling. They had no clear understanding of the dynamics of capitalism. They had illusions about the politics of gradualism or insurrection or about revolutionary vanguards and state-capitalism. They clung to their illusions in the face of the facts of Labour Party administrations of capitalism or of the brutal dictatorships over the workers. As a result of their unsound theories these “practical” men and women diverted the enthusiasm, unselfish devotion and energies of millions into political blind alleys. The advances that have been made are largely those made by workers themselves in producing in greater quantities and in organising to obtain more of the products. However, while capitalism is allowed to exist gains made are not necessarily permanent. When confronted by the programme of socialism, “left-wing” reformists (apart from seldom being in favour of it) always pose the question: “What do we do in the meantime?” — never waking up to the fact that the appalling present is the “meantime” which their political activities, in opposition to the vigorous pursuit of socialism helped to bring into being. In any event, the attitude of genuine socialists is not one of passivity, awaiting a socialist millennium, it is one of active informed organisation for a better way of life.
The more reformists abandon their illusions and inadequate activities, seek to understand the nature of genuine socialism and play their part in building a strong World Socialist Movement, the more effective we can be against capitalism now, prior to an early transformation of society. Such a movement, with the clear objective of taking the means of production out of the hands of a minority and making them the common property of society, would become much more influential than the present parties of the “Left”.
Today many aware of past political errors, propose different approaches to the problems of humankind. They put forward schemes which though rightly concerned with holistic, ecologically benign, locally democratic, “human scale” production are still seen as being within the framework of money, wages, prices and profit. These proposals are attractive to a new political generation, which, failing to identify correctly the process responsible for our major problems, are likely to become a new wave of reformists.
The above comments, of course, are large generalisations, needing further elucidation and discussion. We hope that we have been able to interest you in our ideas and look forward to hearing from you or seeing you at one of our meetings.