Monday, August 31, 2020

Socialist Standard No. 1393 September 2020


Debating Karl Kautsky

The Socialist Party has received an invitation to attend a virtual panel on “Kautsky in the 21st Century”
Here’s the link to join the panel discussion on Zoom:
Known as the “pope of Marxism”, Karl Kautsky was a leading figure of the 2nd International and the mass socialist parties of the 19th century. He became an incredibly controversial figure in Marxism after 1914 largely as a result of his opposition to the 1917 revolution. In recent years, he has resurfaced on the Left as an important intellectual, though his legacy remains in dispute. What can we learn from Karl Kautsky’s Marxism today?
Chris Cutrone (School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Platypus Affiliated Society)
Ben Lewis (Communist Party of Great Britain, editor of Karl Kautsky on Democracy and Republicanism (Historical Materialism, 2019))
Jason Wright (Bolshevik Tendency, ex-International Bolshevik Tendency)

Life expectancy in the US

 Michael Hobbes, in an article for HuffPost, discusses American's shorter life expectancy. Given that life expectancy captures overall social, economic, physical, and mental well‐being, such trends paint a troubling portrait of life and death in the United States.

“In 2014,” Hobbes notes, “American life expectancy fell backward for the first time in 21 years. U.S. lifespans slid lower for another three years straight before barely ticking upward in 2018.”

In 2016, life expectancy of American women (81.4 years) was 3.0 years below the female average of high‐income countries and 5.8 years below the leader; life expectancy of American men (76.4 years) was 3.4 years below the male average and 5.2 years below the leader. The fall of the United States to the bottom in international rankings began in the 1980s, first with slower gains in longevity than other countries and then with absolute declines in recent years. Among 22 high‐income countries, the United States fell from thirteenth place in 1980 to the bottom by the early 2000s

The Milbank Quarterly published a study that breaks down the connection between where Americans live and how long they live. It shows that changes in life expectancy during 1970‐2014 were associated with changes in state policies on a conservative‐liberal continuum, where more liberal policies expand economic regulations and protect marginalized groups. States that implemented more conservative policies were more likely to experience a reduction in life expectancy. We estimated that the shallow upward trend in US life expectancy from 2010 to 2014 would have been 25% steeper for women and 13% steeper for men had state policies not changed as they did. We also estimated that US life expectancy would be 2.8 years longer among women and 2.1 years longer among men if all states enjoyed the health advantages of states with more liberal policies.

If West Virginia were a nation, it would be ranked ninety‐third in the world in terms of life expectancy, between Lithuania and Mauritius. In fact, life expectancy in West Virginia falls below several lower‐middle‐income countries, including Honduras, Morocco, Tunisia, and Vietnam.

New Zealand's Inequality

The extent of wealth inequality in supposedly egalitarian New Zealand has been laid bare by figures showing the wealthiest individuals have over NZ$140bn (US$93bn) stashed away in trusts – and overall have nearly 70 times more assets than the typical New Zealander.

The data show that New Zealand’s wealthiest 1% of adults – around 38,000 people – have $141bn in trusts. Another 150,000 or so people, rounding out the rest of the wealthiest 5%, have trusts worth a further $122bn.

The 1% have an average (mean) of $3.6m held in trusts, $1.6m in shares and $470,000 in cash. Their debts are on average just $80,000.

The typical (median) person in the 1% is worth $6.2m. In contrast, the typical New Zealander is worth only $92,000 – 68 times less. 

Among those in the poorest half of the country, meanwhile, the average person owns assets worth just $46,000 and has debts of $33,000, leaving them with a net worth of $12,000. They have negligible wealth in trusts and on average just $4,000 in the bank, leaving them vulnerable to sudden financial shocks.

When it comes to the middle classes – the 40% of the country who are above the mid-point but below the wealthiest 10% – have a higher net worth, on average $352,000, most of it tied up in housing.

Overall, the wealthiest 10% have 59% of all the country’s assets, and the middle classes around 39%. That leaves the poorest half of the country with just 2%.

The 2017-18 figures represent the status quo inherited by Jacinda Ardern’s government, whose record to date will be revealed by the 2020-21 net worth survey, now underway. Not much change should be expected, however.  On becoming Labour leader in August 2017, Ardern resuscitated the idea of a capital gains tax, 80% of which would have been paid by the wealthiest 20%. But after vociferous opposition from property investors and the National party, she eventually ruled it out under her leadership. She has also been distinctly lukewarm about the Green party proposal for a tax on wealth over $1m. When it comes to the most unequally distributed forms of wealth, such as trusts, shares, bonds and direct ownership of companies, Ardern’s Labour-led government has shown little appetite for redistribution. 

Trusts are vehicles through which individuals can notionally give their assets to trustees to hold on behalf of named beneficiaries. In practice, the “givers” often retain control of the assets while having superficially ceded ownership. In the past this has allowed wealthy individuals to avoid taxes, hide assets from spouses and creditors, and receive care subsidies to which they are not entitled. IRD research has revealed extensive use of trusts among wealthy individuals who pay relatively little tax. IRD research, meanwhile, shows that more than half the country’s ultra-wealthy individuals – those with over $50m – declare incomes of less than $70,000, an implausibly low figure. They avoid tax, the IRD argues, by taking their income as untaxed capital gains, undervaluing the services they provide to their own companies, and transferring wealth to charities which they control but which make “little or no charitable donations”.

Some commentators would argue that New Zealand remains the land of the “fair go”, a country where all have opportunities to get ahead. Its wealth inequality is only slightly worse than the developed country average. But it is difficult to see how it can be fair for any individual, however meritorious, to be “worth” nearly 70 times the typical New Zealander. There are also good reasons to think that opportunities are far from equal. Wealthier parents are able to provide their children with many opportunities unavailable to poorer kids, as well as access to exclusive schools and networks. 

Analysis of the NBR Rich List shows a strong dynastic trend: over one-third of businesses on the list are actively being run by descendants of the fortune’s originator, with the number of family members passively receiving the proceeds of that wealth undoubtedly higher still. While some rich listers are entrepreneurs, developing useful new products, fortunes made in finance, insurance and real estate are predominant. Conversely, the country’s essential workers – including health staff on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic – earn so little that they are often unable to save for a house deposit.  

The country’s egalitarian image was once memorably described by the historian Melanie Nolan as “a rich amalgam of truth and myth”. These new wealth figures suggest that the latter increasingly predominates.

World Socialist Party (New Zealand) P.O. Box 1929
Auckland, NI
New Zealand

A war for oil

A secretive agreement has been struck between a US oil company, Delta Crescent Energy, and the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in North Eastern Syria in order to develop and export the region's oil. The pact has been approved directly by the US government. During a committee hearing in Washington, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whether the Trump administration was in favour of the deal or not. 

"We are," Pompeo responded during the hearing. "The deal took a little longer ... than we had hoped, and now we’re in implementation."

Delta Crescent Energy, little known company at the heart of this agreement is led by former US government officials and includes James Reese, an ex officer in the Army’s elite Delta Force; former US ambassador to Denmark James Cainand and John P. Dorrier Jr., a former executive at GulfSands Petroleum, a UK based company that had previously worked in northeastern Syria. The former political insiders now leading Delta Crescent Energy were helped in sealing the deal by the US State Department, which, in turn, helped to broker it.  

Reese, one of the partners of Delta Crescent Energy, has been a strong advocate of US military presence in Syria. In 2018, he declared on Fox News "We own the whole eastern part of Syria...That's ours. We can't give that up."

Trump contradicted officials by suggesting that US forces were there “only for the oil” and vowing that it would “secure the oil”, the controversial deal lays bare the American strategy in the region.

Barbarism and More Barbarism

An electorate which is so brainwashed into supporting capitalism, in which the great majority are simply voting for the continuance of their own exploitation, such strange “leaders” as Trump can rise to the top. And it is no part of a socialist’s business to recommend more or less efficient or honest contenders as executives of American capitalism. All we can say is that the workers of the USA is if you are scanning the horizon for the great man who is to come and heal all ills, you are going to be as disappointed in the future as you have been in the past.

Trump presented himself as offering a breath of fresh air with policies which include massive tax cuts, supposedly designed to “get government off the backs of the American people”, and stimulate investment and production. There would be reductions in welfare spending but increased expenditure on defense. Of course all the advertising and all the money in the world may be sufficient to convince the voters, but they are no help when it comes down to the real nitty-gritty, putting the promises into action and curing economic ills. 

The call for tax cuts, for instance, may sound as if it will automatically increase the take-home pay of every worker. But this is misleading, as taxes are in fact a charge on the employer rather than on the worker. Workers are paid, in general, the value of their labor power - enough to enable them to maintain themselves and to reproduce the next generation of wage slaves. The difference between the value of their labor power and the value their labor produces— known technically as surplus value — is appropriated by the capitalist class, and it is out of this that taxes are paid. The end of government is to defend the interests of the ruling class, by being responsible for activities such as defense and policing that individual companies are unable to undertake. The capitalists want the benefits of government as cheaply as possible — hence their constant calls for reduced state expenditure. Tax cuts benefit the employers, not the workers.

One supposed effect of transferring money from state to private hands is that it will make more resources available for investment and consumer spending, which will in turn give the economy a boost. But again this view is unfounded. 

Simply transferring money from one set of hands to another does not increase the total amount in any way; a transfer is just that, a transfer. The same number of dollars are available for spending, no matter who does the spending.  By exactly the same token, it follows that the opposite policy — the Keynesian view that it is increased government spending that will get the economy moving again and cut unemploymen t—is equally fallacious. The true position is that neither increased nor decreased government spending offers a way out of a recession.

There is a way off this treadmill, provided the working class see the folly of reforming capitalism. The working-class vote is undervalued by the vast sums spent by capitalist politicians in influencing its use, for it is in fact a priceless weapon in the founding of a moneyless world. Until the vote is used to this effect, the American working class will suffer under the rule of such as the reality TV star and real estate speculator, relies on mouthing other people’s words. The difference is that now he is under the heartless and inhuman direction of capitalist society.

 It does not matter a tinker’s damn which clique captures power in Washington; whether the Man (or perhaps, someday, the Woman) is good looking or ugly; white, black, or “other”; “straight” or “gay”; religious — of whatsoever variety — or atheist; liberal, conservative or radical (right or left). If the mandate is one of continuing a society based upon wage labor and capital; buying and selling; private or state ownership of the means and instruments for producing wealth; the politicians’ performance is going to be, basically, the same. The brand name is of no importance, it is the generic name that counts. Wage labor and capital, whatever it might be called, means capitalism and while capitalism may be manipulated, in one way or another, by one variety or another of political and economic theorist it cannot be controlled.

So let us read America’s political barometer as it registers today, disregarding the particular, preferential indications and concentrating upon the general ones. The polls tell us that there is no discernible opposition in America to the present capitalist society. The very fact that Trump has lost credibility and popularity among masses of the population and that these disappointed and disgruntled ethnics, blue collars, white collars, and whatever, are searching for a new champion to lead them proves the point. True, no polling organization has ever put the one, important, question to a test: do you favor the outright abolition of the system of production for sale on a market with view to profit and the immediate introduction of a society based upon production for use, free right of access by all mankind to all that is in and on the earth? Do you favor capitalism or socialism? Such a question, at this stage, would cost the pollsters, themselves, credibility.

And yet that is the only question worth asking the electorate. We will continue to watch the political barometers for signs of meaningful change and do whatever is possible to spread the word. What else can one do that makes sense in a world of so much nonsense and confusion?

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Kafala Reform in Qatar

Campaigners in Qatar are claiming a bit of victory concerning that countries draconian labour rights laws.

Qatar has scrapped a rule requiring employers' consent to change jobs and said it will also implement a basic monthly minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($274). In addition to the minimum wage, the ministry has also announced the provision of 500 riyals ($137) for accommodation and 300 riyals ($82.2) for food if those expenses are not provided as part of the contract.

Previously, under Qatar's "kafala" (Arabic word for sponsorship) system, migrant workers needed to obtain their employer's permission - a no-objection certificate (NOC) - before changing jobs, a law that rights activists said tied their presence in the country to their employers and led to abuse and exploitation. Now migrant workers can now change jobs before the end of their contract subject to a notice period.

It will a question of whether these laws are going to be effectively enforced. And now international labour rights activists  can turn their attention to those other nations who still retain kafala.

Leicester's Sweatshops

Leicester’s garment district, which is home to more 1,000 factories, has received fewer than 60 health and safety inspections and only 28 fire inspections since October 2017 despite long-held concerns about working conditions.
The city’s small clothing manufacturers, which employ as many as 10,000 people, were also the subject of just 36 HMRC investigations into payment of the national minimum wage between 2017 and March 2020, according to a freedom of information request filed by the Guardian.
Not only is the rate of inspections low. HMRC has issued penalties to fewer than 10 textile firms that failed to pay the minimum wage since 2017 and claimed just over £100,000 in arrears relating to 143 workers.

The figures highlight the low rate of regulatory oversight of factories in Leicester despite the creation of a multi-agency group to try and tackle their problems in October 2017.
Some buildings, including the former Imperial Typewriter works which houses as many as 40 small factories, have only been inspected once.
There have been nine callouts to factory fires in garment factories in the main LE5 textile district since 2017, including a large blaze that triggered the evacuation of nearby premises in 2018. More major fires have been recorded at garment factories in nearby districts.
Of 58 inspections the Health and Safety Executive has carried out since October 2017, 27 have taken place since 1 April this year, when the coronavirus pandemic renewed attention on Leicester’s garment industry. The HSE has not brought any cases against textile firms in the country as a whole since 2017.
There are only four frontline HSE inspectors in Leicester and three trainees, though the team had managed to visit 45 textile and clothing businesses since March.

America's Domestic Servitude

Unlike oth­er work­ers who, regard­less of immi­gra­tion sta­tus, are pro­tect­ed by fed­er­al and state laws, the vast major­i­ty of Amer­i­ca’s 2.5 mil­lion domes­tic work­ers are explic­it­ly left out of these pro­tec­tions.

Domes­tic work­ers live in the lega­cy of slav­ery, and this lega­cy con­tin­ues to shape the sec­tor today,” said Alli­son Julien, co-direc­tor of the New York Chap­ter of We Dream in Black and a found­ing mem­ber of the Nation­al Domes­tic Work­ers Alliance (NDWA). ​Gov­ern­ment lead­ers delib­er­ate­ly carved out domes­tic and farm­work­ers” from any law that could pro­tect their rights, Julien added.

Domes­tic work­ers were exclud­ed from the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Act, the Occu­pa­tion­al Safe­ty and Health Act and the Fair Labor Stan­dards Act because South­ern sen­a­tors refused to grant equal pro­tec­tion to a work­force made up large­ly of black women. That lega­cy is alive and well today.

Domes­tic work­ers are enti­tled to the fed­er­al min­i­mum wage of $7.25 an hour, but they do not have the right to form unions and are not cov­ered by fed­er­al anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws. Employ­ers are not oblig­at­ed to pro­vide safe work­ing con­di­tions or pro­tec­tive gear for work­ers.

Of  the nine states and the city of Seat­tle which have ver­sions of a domes­tic work­ers’ bill of rights,” most of them lack enforce­able frame­works, accord­ing to Polaris, a non­prof­it that oper­ates a nation­al human traf­fick­ing hot­line, con­ducts research and pro­motes pol­i­cy changes.

New York has a domes­tic work­er law, but peo­ple who work less than 40 hours a week can­not access its ben­e­fits. Day labor­ers who are hired by the day or by the hour, are sim­i­lar­ly exclud­ed from the law’s ben­e­fits, as are undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple. Black and undoc­u­ment­ed domes­tic work­ers have been dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affect­ed by these exclu­sions.

The vast major­i­ty of domes­tic work­ers are immi­grants, which makes them par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble to exploita­tion and labor traf­fick­ing –when employ­ees are forced to remain on the job through threats, vio­lence or oth­er forms of coer­cion, or brought to a coun­try through fraud­u­lent means. Domes­tic work­ers have often been left to the mer­cy of employ­ers.

Andrea Rojas, direc­tor of Strate­gic Ini­tia­tives at Polaris, says that this is a form of mod­ern-day slav­ery. This sit­u­a­tion, she adds, sends the very dan­ger­ous mes­sage that since these work­ers have been exclud­ed from pro­tec­tions grant­ed to oth­er work cat­e­gories, they are less valu­able. We are talk­ing about for­eign work­ers who often do not know the lan­guage, who are iso­lat­ed and with­out their safe­ty net­works,” Rojas explains. There’s also a pow­er imbal­ance, she adds, when low-paid labor­ers work in wealthy peo­ple’s hous­es.

Lesser Evilism - A Chronicle of Failure

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.   -  Oscar Ameringer

For the workers there is nothing to choose between Trump or Biden. They both stand for capitalism. It has been shown that many capitalists support both, and evidence has been offered in the press that both parties draw finances from the same sources. The capitalists who finance both at the same time wish to be doubly certain that whichever party gets political power, their particular interests will be looked after.

The ruling class know that to obtain political power they must have the aid of the working class, as this class is numerically the strongest. These conventions, with all of their publicity, are part of the means to stir up in the working class a certain interest in political activity. So the capitalist politicians bring up at such conventions the different issues—some of importance to workers — and then with the aid of their professional spell-binders and writers, attempt to sidetrack and enlist the sympathy of the workers — and get their votes.

The conditions of the working class arise out of the social relationships in modern society. This class is forced by necessity to enter into a certain definite relationship with the capitalist class. As the latter class own the means of production — the means of life — the working class is compelled to sell its energies to the owners in order to gain access to the means of life. In exchange for their energies the workers get wages. It due to this condition that poverty and misery exist among the workers.

The control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces, is essential to the capitalist or property owning class to enable them to deal with the problems that confront them.

There is, for example, the need for the capitalist class of the United States to protect themselves from the encroachments of capitalists of other countries who may attempt to "muscle in" on the preserves of our masters' country. Again, new markets are sought in which to sell the surplus products that the limited purchasing power of the American workers will not enable them to buy. This struggle for markets is keen among the various capitalist national groups throughout the world. Who shall get the markets often resolves itself into which group can muster the strongest force, and when the trickery of diplomacy fails, the force of armaments decides.

Then, again, there is the struggle between the workers and the capitalists over the division of the wealth produced by the workers. The more the capitalist system develops, the clearer become the contrasts between the two classes, and with it the likelihood of periodical outbursts of industrial strife.

As the workers' understanding grows, the difficulty of stifling their discontent, correspondingly increases. To deal with this there are, apart from the regular army and navy and air force, also such organizations as the National Guard.  Besides these they have the police departments, and private security agencies, all of which are used to suppress any of the smaller uprisings of workers, and which are also used as spies and stool-pigeons to weed out and fire those workers who desire to organize against their oppressive conditions.

Still another capitalist problem is the existence of the “criminal" elements which this social system breeds so freely. The uncertain conditions of the working class, and even of some of the smaller fry of capitalists, demoralizes many into trying to live by means that are contrary to capitalist property laws.

What has been written above shows that the capitalists, in order to run their system, must needs have a government to enable them to enforce their kind of order, so that the conditions essential to the exploitation of the slave class can be continued. Thus it is that they are prepared to spend large sums of money running into many millions of dollars for the purpose of winning elections. Yet we know that no matter which capitalist party obtains the powers of government, their supreme interests as a class will be served. Individual and group differences there are, but basically all of these differences are as nothing when the difference between capitalist and worker comes into prominence. Then the common aim of the capitalist class is shown, and that is, to maintain the present social system.

It should be clear to all workers that the working class, if they are to escape from the misery of capitalism, must first understand their class position, and must then build up a world socialist political party for the purpose of capturing the powers of government in order to introduce socialism.

This is the only solution of the economic problems of the working class. All else will leave them wage-slaves still.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Rescuing and Protecting Refugees

The UNHCR and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) said more than 200 rescued refugees and migrants needed immediately to get off the nonprofit search-and-rescue ship Louise Michel, saying it was far beyond its safe capacity. The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalised or stigmatised, especially in the absence of dedicated state-led efforts, they said. They also reiterated concerns about the lack of dedicated EU-led search-and-rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, and the lack of coordination among European nations to support countries like Italy and Malta, which are bearing the brunt of migrants arriving by sea.
The plea from UNHCR and IOM also mentioned hundreds of migrants on two other charity ships in urgent need of safe harbour. The agencies said 27 migrants who left from Libya, including a pregnant woman and children, have been stranded on the commercial tanker Maersk Etienne for an unacceptable three-week period since their rescue on 5 August. A further 200 rescued people on the SeaWatch4, which has waited for days to be allowed to enter a port, also needed urgent help.
Banksy posted a short video on his personal Instagram account and accompanied by a comment: “Like most people who make it in the art world, I bought a yacht, to cruise the Med. It’s a French navy vessel we converted into a lifeboat because EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from ‘non-Europeans’.” The video ends with the words All Black Lives Matter.
Lea Reisner, head of operations for the Louise Michel, accused European states of not doing their job, saying: “They deny responsibility while we are trying to keep everyone alive … We need immediate assistance.”
Meanwhile, those who have reached a safe haven find themselves subject to intimidation by so-called patriots of the far-right Britain First. The are entering hotels which are housing refugees, disturbing them, demanding to know where they come from and accusing them of wasting "tax-payers" money.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, told the Guardian: “Every human being should be treated with dignity and compassion, and never more so when they are seeking help and support.

Remembering St Kilda

On 29 August 1930, the last 36 residents began the evacuation from St Kilda, a group of islands 110 miles off the west coast of Scotland that had been lived on for thousands of years.
13 men, 10 women and 13 children were aboard the ship that would take them away from their homes forever. 
The 90th anniversary is remembered here on the BBC website.

Nor has the Socialist Party forgotten this community.

Back in 1980 we recalled the evacuation of the islanders, who had been living a way of life that in many ways was an example of primitive communism. 

Later we posted an article on our Scottish branches blog describing the St Kildans in 2012

And later in 2016 the Socialist Standard once more returned to give an account of the St Kilda community.

It described the decision making of those islanders where the men would each morning and talk about was to be done that day

 It had no rules, no chairman and participants arrived in their own time. This was a meeting to share information, discuss current issues, resolve disputes, and make decisions, in particular in relation to work that needed to be done. Decisions were reached by consensus. ‘Often the proceedings are anything but harmonious, and the loud talking of the men at one and the same moment is suggestive of anything but a peaceful solution. However, when a decision is arrived at the malcontents readily give way, and co-operate cordially with the majority.’ Never in recorded history were feuds bitter enough as to bring about a permanent division in the community.

The St Kilda "parliament"