Sunday, May 31, 2020

Socialist Standard No. 1390 June 2020

The French Revolution.


Book Review from the January 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard
The French Revolution has been a favourite topic with historians of all countries, and it has probably called forth more books than any other event in the history of the world. Yet in the whole literature of the subject one can find little that is consistently good; there is a disproportionate amount of chaff. A book that has just come into my hands, "A Brief History of the French Revolution," by F. W. Aveling, is, however, so really bad, that I think it deserves notice, if only to warn those who might, in their hurry, confuse the author with Edward Aveling, and buy it.
In his preface the author states that the book is intended primarily as a school textbook. No doubt it will have success as such, for it is moulded on the true lines of all modern school histories. It is a string of events, with nothing to connect them, each one seemingly an accident. The true causes of the revolution and its meaning, the knowledge of which might cause pupils to grow interested in a dangerous field of inquiry, are hidden, and instead the reader is offered a few trumpery excuses, which explain nothing and lead nowhere, but which satisfy that craving for sensation which springs from faulty education and the degrading influence of the press. Aveling's causes of the Revolution bear the same relation to the real origin as does the popular idea of profiteering to the profit-making system. They serve only to hide the relevant facts.
Three reasons are given, viz. :

  1. The vices and extravagances of the kings and their court.
  2. The writings of the philosophers and literary men, particularly of J. J. Rousseau ; and the growth of unbelief in religion.
  3. Bad government on the part of the rulers of the land : the oppression of the poor by aristocrats : the absence of any political power on the part of the great mass of the people.
No mention is made of its being a Revolution of the bourgeoisie ; rather it is made to appear as working class in its objects, and this, although it is now agreed that the French Revolution was the homologue of the English Revolution of 1640-60, 1688, that it was the triumph of the Capitalist class and the final overthrow of feudalism. Such an omission might be excused to a contemporary, but in a modern history it becomes a suppression, and one is compelled to think that the author is deliberately misleading.
The immorality of the Bourbons had as little to do with the French Revolution as did the morality of Charles I. with the English.
And in view of the fact that the poor in France had always been oppressed by the aristocrats and had never had any political power, it is useless to suggest that this oppression and lack of political power alone could have precipitated the Revolution of 1789. Why 1789 rather than 1400?
The prominence of the philosophers and their sceptical teaching themselves require an explanation. Our author does not, or will not, see this, and so it is not given.
Let us see why the revolution came in the eighteenth rather than in the fifteenth century.
In the first place, it is necessary to remember that this, like all others, was an economic revolution. It arose owing to the necessity to industrialism of the abolition of the remnants of the feudal barriers. It was a revolution of the French bourgeoisie, which was confronted with impotence and ruin unless it could seize political power and enter on the same course of expansion as England and the newly-freed American Republic.
Up to then political power was concentrated in the hands of a bureaucratic despotism. The nobles and clergy retained their social positions, feudal privileges, and rights. This hampered the development of the industrial and trading classes, for which a free working-class, as opposed to feudal serfs, and a free circulation of commodities were essential. The Gabelle, a government monopoly of the sale of salt, and the Banvin, or the right enjoyed by the lord of the manor to sell his own wine in the parish, to the exclusion of any other, are but two examples of the many feudal privileges which stood in the way of free development of commerce and industry.
Again, taxation was high, and owing to the exemption from it enjoyed by the nobles and clerics, its burden fell on the propertied commercial class. In the army aristocrats held the chief posts, so that the ambitions of bourgeois officers were checked. This explains the willingness of the lower officers to usurp authority and lead their troops against the dominant class.
It was the growth of the bourgeoisie in France, with its accompanying necessity for a new philosophy and set of ideals, which gave rise to the liberal spirit noticeable earlier in the century. In particular, intercourse with other countries and with England, from which the newly invented machinery was beginning to be imported, fostered this spirit, of which the writings of Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau are but the expression. To place too great an importance in the effects of their books is dangerous, especially as only about 4 per cent. of the population could read.
They were the philosophers of the rising capitalists, and it was among the members of this class in the main that they found readers and popularity.
To say, as the author does, that they spread democratic ideas among the masses, is to show a complete ignorance of their works.
Rousseau looked longingly to the Roman State and a return to nature. Montesquieu and Voltaire aimed merely at adopting the English constitutional system. Buckle, in his "Civilisation in England," lays great stress on this, and Gustave Le Bon, a middle-class author, writes : "Although the philosophers, who have been supposed the inspirers of the French Revolution, did attack certain privileges and abuses, we must not for that reason regard them as partisans of popular government " ("Psychology of Revolution").
When Louis XVI., owing to the financial difficulties of the government, was forced to summon the States General, the time for the seizure of political power by the revolutionary bourgeoisie had arrived.
To obtain control of the Tiers Etat, they, with their cry of "Free the land!" obtained the support of the peasants, but "they were as undemocratic at bottom as men well could be; their feeling for the masses was nothing but a mixture of scorn and fear; the perfect type of the bourgeois of '89 combined hatred of the nobles with distrust of the mob " ("French Revolution," Louis Madelin).
Thanks to the support of the lesser clergy, who suffered from the tyranny of the great prelates, they obtained control in the National Assembly, and at once proceeded to destroy all that remained of feudalism. In a short time seigneural rights were abolished, serfs were freed, and later the Church lands were confiscated.
Meanwhile, in the, towns unemployment, consequent on machine production superseding hand labour in many trades, together with lack of bread, occasioned by bad harvests, destruction of the crops by agents of the bourgeoisie, and the speculations of the grain merchants, who were holding back supplies, caused the workers to support the rising class. This provided them with a force which at need they could bring out to overcome the Royalists.
The weakness of Louis and the need to crush the nobility and clergy completely, rendered the introduction of a constitutional monarchy impossible, although certain sections favoured it. And so Louis was executed and a Republic proclaimed.
The rising of the Revolution from the National Assembly to the Directory, which paved the way for Napoleon to consolidate the gains of the triumphant class, is a history of struggles between sections of the bourgeoisie, and of their efforts to drive back the workers into subjection after they had served the needs of their masters.
Even the Terror is a period of bourgeois domination.
But our author would not stain the honour of the master class, our present rulers, so he reviles the workers for the executions. And this in spite of the fact that "out of 2,750 victims of Robespierre only 650 belonged to the upper or middle classes. The tumbrils that wended their way daily to the Place de la Revolution and afterwards to the Faubourg St. Antoine were largely filled with working-men" ("French Revolution," Belfort Bax).
Robespierre himself was merely a tool, although perhaps an unconscious tool, of the bourgeoisie; he served them by destroying the more liberal-minded Herbertists, and was destroyed himself when his task was accomplished.
But although it was not, and could not be, a working-class revolution, study of the French Revolution is of value to the proletariat for two reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates the truth of the Materialist Conception of History.
Society rests on an economic basis and it is only by examination of this foundation that one can understand the nature and development of the institutions, ideas, and cultural activities of the classes of which the particular society is composed, and explain outstanding historical and political movements and events.
Secondly, it shows the futility of working-class action without class-consciousness.
The workers allowed themselves to be stirred up to do the behests of a higher class, they fought their battles for them, and then, when they had clone all that was wanted of them, they were forced into a new and worse servitude. They were surrounded and disarmed on their return from the army. Their organisations were broken up by "Jeunesse Dorée" (the White Guards of the period) armed with weighted canes!
And attempts of the workers to achieve their emancipation will always end in failure until they, by study, learn their position in society as slaves of the propertied class, and then, acting as a class, gain control of political power and the force it commands.
W. J. R.

Hungry USA

America’s food insecurity crisis was dire even before the Covid-19 pandemic, when at least 37 million people lived in households without adequate resources to guarantee consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

Now, overall, about 54 million people across the US could go hungry without help from food banks, food stamps and other aid, according to an analysis by Feeding America, the national food bank network. 

A record number of Americans face hunger this year as the catastrophic economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic looks set to leave tens of millions of people unable to buy enough food to feed their families.
Nationwide, the demand for aid at food banks and pantries has soared since the virus forced the economy to be shutdown, resulting in more than 40m new unemployment benefit claims, according to the latest figures.
As a result, an estimated one in four children, the equivalent of 18 million minors, could need food aid this year – a 63% increase compared to 2018.
More than 11 million people in the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and Tennessee are projected to suffer food insecurity in 2020. In Mississippi, proportionately the worst-affected state before and since the pandemic, almost three-quarters of a million people could need food aid this year, including one in every three children. 

Larry Scott, chief operating officer of the Three Square food bank in Las Vegas where about 65% more food aid will be needed to stop people from going hungry: one of the biggest jumps in the country, said “People are going to go hungry, that’s the truth.” 
The situation looks dire statewide: one in three children and one in five adults in Nevada are projected to suffer from food insecurity this year – a rise of almost 60% since 2018. 

On Thursday in Tucson, Arizona, 1,400 or so cars lined up at a mobile distribution point, which was open for three hours, for grocery boxes of canned fruits, pinto beans, pasta, milk, fresh vegetables, frozen meat and bread, to help make ends meet for a month. Historically, there was a shortfall of 34m meals every year in the five counties served by the Community Food Bank of southern Arizona. Currently, the demand remains sky high – double pre-pandemic levels, and statewide 17% of the workforce have claimed unemployment since the start of the crisis. One in three children in Arizona could go hungry this year without food aid.

“We were getting darn close to closing the meal gap before the crisis,” said Michael McDonald, the CEO. “But if demand continues at this rate for the rest of the year or into next year, we’re going to fall way short. I don’t see us being able to keep up without a longer-term commitment from the federal government.”
Los Angeles county, where almost half the state of California’s Covid-19 cases have been confirmed, is projected to have 1.68 million food insecure people this year – the highest number in the country. It’s the most populous county in the US, with 10 million residents, where unemployment has risen to 20.3% – five percentage points higher than the state average – and food stamp applications have almost tripled compared with last year. 
“If the numbers stay like this, no way food banks can cope, it’s beyond our capabilities, a lot will depend on how long federal help lasts,” said Michael Flood, president of the Los Angeles Food Bank, which has distributed 80% more groceries since the pandemic began. 

Projected rates of food insecurity among the US population in 2020
Less than 14%
14 - 15%
16 - 17%
18 - 19%
More than 20%

Endless War

Modern wars are mostly about power and treasure. And they go on, and on, and on. A new study shows that 60% of the world’s wars have lasted for at least a decade. 

Libya’s civil war entered its 7th year this month with no end in sightLibya is a classic case of a state of chaos deliberately fed and manipulated by external powers, in this instance Turkey, Qatar, Russia, Egypt and the UAE. Here, as elsewhere, rival rulers claim to be upholding order or fighting “terrorism” while, in reality, they seek to extend national influence and economic advantage. As long as these aims remain unmet, they show scant interest in peace.

In Afghanistan, conflict has raged on and off since the Soviet invasion in 1979. America’s Afghan war is now its longest ever, part of the open-ended US “global war on terror” launched after the 2001 al-Qaida attacks.

Syria began initially peaceful uprising against the autocratic presidency of Bashar al-Assad formed part of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts. It quickly turned into full-scale war as Assad’s regional foes, notably Saudi Arabia, seized a chance to overthrow a regime allied with Iran. Since then upwards of half a million people are estimated to have died.

Yemen’s conflict is in its sixth pitiless year.

The war in Yemen commenced in March 2015.  More than 40,000 people have fled their homes since January, adding to the 3.6 million displaced. Unicef says 12 million children need humanitarian assistance. The impasse owes much to the fact the main protagonists – the Yemeni government, led by exiled president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and the Houthi rebel movement, which represents Yemen’s Zaidi Shia minority – are backed by regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively. The Saudi military intervened in 2015 after Hadi was forced to flee, backed by the US, UK and France. But while civilian casualties and alleged war crimes have rocketed, the Houthi insurgency appears largely unscathed. Meanwhile, al-Qaida terrorists are exploiting the chaos and southern separatists based in Aden have gained ground.
In Israel-Palestine, war – or rather the absence of peace – has characterised life since 1948. 

Somalis have endured 40 years of fighting. 

It’s hard to say exactly when the trouble began in the DRC. This vast central African country experienced an extraordinary civil war between 1997 and 2003 when an estimated five million people died. Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sahel and Sudan is fuelled by the fact that millions of young men in Africa, where the median age is 19.8, lack fulfilling work or a meaningful stake in their country’s future. Long-running inter-state or intra-state violence is also rooted in the climate crisis and resulting resource scarcity, poverty and dislocation.

These are but a few examples in a world where the idea of war without end seems to have become accepted, even normalised.

Today’s wars are mostly undeclared, undefined and inglorious affairs typically involving multiple parties, foreign governments, proxy forces, covert methods and novel weapons. They are conducted without regard for civilian lives, the Geneva conventions regulating armed conflict, or the interests of host populations in whose name they are fought. New technologies and weapons such as drones are lowering the up-front cost of conflict while enlarging potential theatres of war.

A socialist alphabet

 From the May 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Action: What makes you angry? The destruction of rain forests? The threat of nuclear weapons? Racism? Do you believe that support for, or membership of, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Amnesty will help solve the problem? There are so many problems and causes that call for attention. Where will you find the time to write all the protest letters, go on demonstrations and earn the money for all the donations? Don’t try to alleviate the effects. Act against the cause.
Brave New World Throughout history the idea of a perfect world has captured the imagination. Thomas Mores book, Utopia, published in 1516, described an imaginary island with a perfect social and political system. The term "Utopian" is used to describe what is thought to be unpractical. Ask yourself, whose interest does it serve for you to think that a better society is an impractical proposition?
Class: No one admits to being working class. It conjures up pictures of flat caps, three ducks on the wall, breeding pigeons and keeping coal in the bath. Even being thought lower class is more acceptable. Ask anyone, they'll tell you that Britain is the most class-ridden country in the world. This may come as a surprise, but there are only two classes in society If you have no means of providing the necessities in life other than by selling your labour power for a wage or salary, you belong to the vast majority, the working class. If, however, you are one of the minority who own the means of production and distribution, who get their wealth from exploiting the working class, then you belong to the capitalist class. Wouldn't you rather live in a class-free society?
Depression: Haven't you ever said, “I'd rather be rich and miserable than poor and happy?". Everyone gets depressed with life at some time. Isn't one of the major causes of depression money? Or rather, the lack of it. The incidence of depression is highest in an economic slump. Capitalism is cyclical. Economic depression follows boom as surely as night follows day. Economic depressions result from over-production. What kind of society is it that is capable of producing enough goods to satisfy everyone's needs, but which refuses to let those who need, have, if they cannot afford to pay?
Exploitation: When your teenage children come home after a week working for a fast-food chain, and shows you their wage-packet, you may describe that as exploitation. But every day, all of us who belong to the vast majority of the propertyless working class are exploited by capitalism. By paying workers less than the value of what they produce, capitalists appropriate surplus value. Profits come from the unpaid labour of the working class. How long are you prepared to be exploited?
Freedom: “Man was born free and everywhere he is chains”, wrote Rousseau. Capitalism gives the world the freedom to go hungry, thirsty, homeless and naked. Tommorow, when another day of wage-slavery begins, ask yourself, how free am I?
Government: Essential to the smooth running of a modern civilisation. Everyone knows that. Why. without it we'd have anarchy! A society without government? Unthinkable. Who tells us so? Politicians! Abolish government? You'll be wanting to abolish money next!
History: It's all about remembering the dates of battles isn't it? It’s about Kings and Queens and Generals and it’s boring. Wrong. The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. History is about you and me, not just about those who control what goes into the history books.
Idleness: You must have heard it at work, or in the pub. or in the post office. “Idle sods, they don't want to work. It's you and me what's keeping them while they're out enjoying themselves all the time. I don't know where they get all their money to smoke, drink and gallivant.” Dole scroungers? Or capitalists? 
Joke: Have you heard the one about the planet where starvation, famine, misery, homelessness and the threat of nuclear extinction reign? All because a minority owns most of the wealth. It's a very sick joke.
Krypton: The planet that Superman comes from. But superheroes don't exist. No one's going to save you in the last reel from the clutches of capitalism. You don't need "heroes", you need socialism.
Leaders: Only sheep need leaders, to fleece them. English soldiers in the 1914-18 conflict were described by a German General as “Lions led by Donkeys". Don't be misled into believing that civilisation would descend into anarchy without leaders. Leaders need you more than you need them.
Money: Something you never seem to have enough of. Money plays an essential role in capitalism. Money dispenses with the need to barter commodities; with commodity-production money serves as a universal equivalent which allows commodities to be exchanged. When goods are produced for need, not profit, money becomes unnecessary. Abolish your ration of poverty! 
Nationalism: My country right or wrong? When this planet is viewed from outer space there are no frontiers dividing one country from another. Whose country is it anyway? Yours, or the capitalist ruling class who own most of the wealth? Bugger the flag, sod the national anthem, stand up for one human race!
Opportunities: One of the biggest regrets in life is to reflect on what might have been. So rather than worry over the poverty of the pension, yet another hospital being closed, and the general awfulness of being a worker nobody wants, find out about socialism. The opportunity hasn't passed, but it's up to you to ensure that it isn't missed.
Politics: It is said that politics and religion are the two subjects of conversation to be avoided if you don't want to cause an argument. Religion is a device of the ruling class to help keep the workers quiet, but politics affect everyone. Only by capturing political power through the ballot box can a class conscious working class bring about socialism.
Questions: Go on, ask yourself, is this really what life is about?
Revolution: Socialists do not advocate manning the barricades. Those who tell you that violent revolutions have resulted in socialist states, like China or the former USSR, are kidding you and themselves. Violent revolutions merely result in the continuance of capitalism.
Status Quo: Not just a pop-group. Capitalism is a bit like theories about the origin of the Universe. Some say the Universe has always existed. Capitalists would like you to think that about capitalism. If capitalism has "always been" there's no point in trying to change it. Or is there?
Taxes: The policies of the present government and its attempts to privatise the health service, education, electricity and so on, are designed to reduce the burden of taxation for the capitalist class. Who benefited most from tax cuts? Taxes are not a working class problem, capitalism is.
Untiring efforts: If some Dr. Strangelove doesn’t blow us all to hell first, socialism can eclipse capitalism. But capitalism will not collapse of its own accord. Socialism has to be worked for, untiringly and unceasingly.
Value: Socialists do not argue for the abolition of capitalism because it is unfair, immoral or evil. Capitalism continues because the vast majority of the working class are unaware that they, the majority class, are economically exploited by a minority property owning class. Wealth is created by the labour of the working class; wealth which, in a socialist society, would belong to the whole community.
Wages: The price an employer pays for your labour-power. Also your ration of poverty, because your ability to purchase the commodities produced by other members of the working class is restricted by the amount of money you earn. Trades unions call for a fair day's pay for a fair day’s work. Socialists call for the abolition of the wages system.

Yoke: As surely as the oxen are tied to the plough, capitalism is a burden that oppresses the working class. Unlike the oxen, the means of releasing yourself from bondage are in your hands. Socialism is the road to freedom.

Xenophobia: The failure to acknowledge that we are all citizens of the world and one humanity.

Zeal: Socialists aren't zealots but zealous, defined in my dictionary as “Fervent in advancing a cause, and persistent in their endeavour". Are you going to wait until capitalism's ruthless pursuit of profits makes the world uninhabitable? Time is running out. The need is for socialism, now. Isn't it a cause worth striving for?
Dave Coogan
 (slightly adapted)

Jim Crow Didn’t Go Away

Protests against police violence and the killing of George Floyd continue with demands for justice.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez issued a plea to anyone calling for the end of the "unrest" stirred by brutality and oppression to focus on the root causes of poverty, distrust, and violence in American society.

"If you are calling for an end to this unrest... but you are not calling for the end to the conditions that created the unrest, you are a hypocrite," Ocasio-Cortez said in the post.

Socialists know that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. What is taking place is deja vu from the long history of African-American revolts in the United States. Non-solutions such as body cams and de-escalation training are clearly not the answer. The number of police killings between 2018 and 2019 increased, despite the growing use of body cams by police districts around the country.

AOC goes on to seek a solution for America’s racism and inequality in a policy of reforms. 

"If you're trying to call for the end to unrest, but you don't believe healthcare is a human right. If you're afraid to say Black Lives Matter. If you're too scared to call out police brutality—then you aren't asking for an to unrest. You are asking for injustice to continue and for your people to continue to endure the violence of poverty, the violence of lack of housing access, the violence of police brutality and not say a damn thing. That's what you're asking for. So if you're out here," she continued, "asking for an end to unrest, you better be asking for healthcare as a human right, you better be calling for accountability in our policing, you better be supporting community review boards, you better be supporting the end of housing discrimination, you better be standing up to for-profit real estate developers that are intimidating people and trying to evict them from their homes—that's what you better be calling for. Because if you don't call for those things and you're asking for the end of unrest—all you're asking for is the continuation of quiet oppression.

Nevertheless, much of what she says makes sense to socialists. Instead of calls for things to simply calm down and "go back to normal," said Ocasio-Cortez, "let's create a new world—one where all people are held to the same standard of the rule of law. And one where the justice a person gets for their crimes is not dependent on who they work for or how much money they have, but by the actual deed that was done." A world like, she concluded, "is what justice looks like."

However, there’s no greater frustration than working every day to build and inspire others to build a more just, compassionate world, only to be so brutally reminded of how far away that world is.

Harvard University philosophy professor Dr. Cornell West explains “ The history of black people for over 200 and some years in America has been looking at America's failure. Its capitalist economy could not generate and deliver in such a way that people could live lives of decency. The nation-state, it's criminal justice system, it's legal system could not generate protection of rights and liberties. And now our culture, of course is so market-driven—everything for sale, everybody for sale—it can't  deliver the kind of nourishment for soul, for meaning, for purpose." 

West goes on to say, "The system cannot reform itself," West argued and pointed to a dynamic in which identitarian representation is asked to be a stand in for class equality, shared prosperity, and a functional democracy that actually expresses the will of the people and satisfies the material needs of the working people and the poor. We've tried black faces in high places," he said. "Too often our black politicians, professional class, middle class become too accommodated to the capitalist economy, too accommodated to a militarized nation-state, too accommodated to the market-driven culture of celebrities, status, power, fame, all that superficial stuff that means so much to so many fellow citizens.

He continues, "You've got a neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party…and they really don't know what to do because all they want to do is show more black faces—show more black faces. But often times those black faces are losing legitimacy, too—because the Black Lives Matter movement emerged under a black president, a black attorney general, and a black Homeland Security, and they couldn't deliver. So when you talk about the masses of black people—the precious poor and working-class black people, brown, red, yellow, whatever color—they're the ones left out and they feel so thoroughly powerless, helpless, hopeless—then you get rebellion."

According to West, the nation faces a choice now between "nonviolent revolution" and continuing the status quo failures. "And by revolution what I mean is the democratic sharing of power, resources, wealth and respect," he explained. "If we don't get that kind of sharing, you're going to get more violent explosions."

West added, "I thank God people are in the streets. Can you imagine this kind of lynching taking place and people are indifferent? People don't care? People are callous?" He said “White supremacy is going to be around for a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long time, don't be surprised when this happens again. But the question is we must fight," he concluded.

After more than 300 years of the USA abusing blacks in every way imaginable, of course anger and rage is inevitable. As Martin Luther King Jnr said,” And what you’re seeing in America is those chickens coming home to roost