Sunday, December 30, 2007

Workers Have No Country

Editorial from the December 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whether Polish plumbers, Portuguese hop-pickers or Chinese cockle-pickers, migrant labour in the UK is undoubtedly higher profile now than it has been for many decades. The focus groups and private polling used by the major parties are confirming immigration as the No 1 issue for voters at the moment.

In some parts of the UK the influx may well have resulted in increased unemployment for existing workers and appears to be putting a downward pressure on wages in some sectors.

It's worth noting that there has been an enormous effort made to vilify, criminalise and erase racist language and ideas over the last few decades. World socialists have not opposed these developments but we have argued that racism – like other the so-called "hate" crimes – is usually fuelled and ignited by poverty and fear, and therefore cannot be removed until the cause is.

For workers fighting over crumbs in lower wage unskilled jobs, the temptation to blame your unemployment or wage level on foreign labour may be strong. But nevertheless such views are false. The blame lies elsewhere. In order to stay profitable, UK employers are demanding cheap labour. It makes good business sense to welcome cheap labour from overseas – you didn't have to pay for its education, and after you have exploited it for a lifetime, you still won't have to pay its pension.

In many ways the government is only repeating at the national level what has been happening at employer level for many years with out-sourcing of staffing costs.

And while the free movement of labour is restricted, capital is of course expected to roam the globe looking out for ever better rates of exploitation, sniffing around the sweatshops for signs of harsher working conditions or longer hours. But if these chickens come home to roost – if little pockets of the third world's poor actually have the gumption or bravery to start popping up on our doorstep – then our local administrators of capitalism start to get a bit edgy.

As with so many issues, politicians are slowly realising that governments must simply accommodate to capitalism with regard to migration and accept it. They can only try to control it but if they are to have any hope of effectively securing borders and finding those who slip through they must expend vast sums as on ID cards and the like.

The World Socialist Movement didn't get its name for nothing. Unique amongst all political parties left and right we have no national axe to grind. We side with no particular state, no government, no currency. We have no time for nationalisation or privatisation, for border controls or for migration incentives. The world over, workers must do what they can individually and collectively to survive and resist capitalism. In many parts of the world that means escaping the tyranny of political terror or economic poverty. Politically however, workers should try and resist taking sides in the battles of the economic blocs who just happen to be named on the front of your passport. You must not blame another worker for your poverty. Instead we would argue that workers should recognise that – whether migrant or not, whether illegal or legal.

Are We Armchair Philosophers?

From our magazine, then called the Western Socialist (August 1947)

To the Western Socialist-

The workers want something NOW and you ignore this altogether. Instead of having a program dealing with the everyday problems of the workers, you retreat into an ivory tower. Actually, you are nothing but armchair philosophers, divorced from the needs of the working class. You are concerned with the intricate problems of Marxian economics and the fine points of Marxian philosophy at a time when action is needed.



We agree that the workers want something NOW. But, and that is the point – WHAT do they want? The unpleasant truth is, of course, that they do NOT desire socialism but THAT THE MAJORITY OF WORKERS EVERYWHERE STILL SUPPORT CAPITALISM. They feel that something is wrong. They desire peace and security. In order to get these, they try every political party which promises to give them these things. When they have tried one, and it has failed, as it must fail, they "give the other bloke a go." This may seem a crude analysis of elections, but it is true. At election times up to now, the issue has always been: WHO shall administer capitalism? HOW shall it be administered? The difference between the actual performance of all parties is very small. It is a case of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The only issue they are really divided on is whether the capitalist system should be administered with a dash of state control or not. The intention of the Labor Party may be the very best – it may desire real improvements for the workers. But the record of all Labor Governments brings home the fundamental point that capitalism simply cannot be administered in the interests of the working class, whatever party is in control.

The issue then, is simple, once we analyze the problem which faces the socialist. On the one hand a party based on a reformist policy, uttering vague socialist phrases, grows quickly and achieves power. On the other hand you have a Socialist Party which appeals on the one demand – Socialism – and which grows very slowly. What then are we to do? Can we not achieve socialism and at the same and at the same time attract a large number of workers on a programme of immediate demands?

This question can only be answered by looking at the fate of those organizations which have tried the policy. Not only have they failed to bring socialism any nearer, but they have even made the way to socialism more difficult. The most outstanding example is surely the pre- Hitler German Labor Movement. One of the strongest "left" parties in the world was the Social Democratic Workers Party (SDAP). The theoreticians of the Social Democrats – Karl Kautsky, Hilferding, Otto Bauer, etc. – were at times amongst the most brilliant interpreters of Marxist theory. The party had strong trade unions to support it. Yet it collapsed like a house of cards and the Communists did no better. This has been cited as the "failure of Marxism."

What are the facts? If we examine the ACTIONS of the party, if we if we turn from the dazzling flights of theoretical fancy of their monthly organs whose readership was confined to a few, to their popular daily press, read by millions of workers, we can see one of the main causes.

It is the apathy and the cynicism on the part of the rank and file. Where was the difference between the Social Democrats and the avowedly capitalist parties? Did they not ally themselves with the Junker generals, with the Catholic Centre Party, and with the senile militarist Hindenburg? Their "alternative" to capitalism was - capitalism. They had run it, on the only basis it can be run – a capitalist basis. They had not been built up on a policy of demanding socialism, but one of reforms. Six million unemployed in Germany, two million in Britain, ten in the USA, 300,000 in Australia – these were the results of capitalism, not of the particular administration of it by "progressive" or "reactionary" parties.

Yes, the Social Democrats HAD the mass basis. They had not "isolated themselves", they had been "practical". And the result? To the misery of capitalism administered by Social-Democrats, the workers preferred the misery of State-Capitalism administered by the Nazi gangsters – at least they would give them work and bread!

The Social-Democrats had taken a "short cut". Their following consisted of millions of workers, who, on May 1st, listened to revolutionary sounding phrases and shouted: "Workers of the World Unite!" Certainly there were socialists within their ranks who believed that they should "work from within". Whether they have learnt their lesson only the future will show.

"Armchair philosophers" had become "practical politicians" and socialism had been put into cold-storage. One day perhaps - but not now. The more "practical" the party became, the shadier its political opportunism. No wonder their supporters were apathetic. No wonder Hitler could attract so many despairing workers with his promise of Action. (Of course, we are not maintaining that the Social-Democrats caused Nazism. But their activities, and even more those of the Communist Party, helped to pave the way for it.)

Even if the whole German Labor Movement had been in a "United Front", the result would not have been different. As we have seen, the causes of all the evils of capitalism are left untouched. Workers who have joined them also become apathetic and disillusioned. They've "had enough talking." Thus, fronts "against Totalitarianism" make the workers prey for any political charlatan with a glib tongue. In the final analysis, instead of fighting it, they lead workers into a state of mind where they are more susceptible to totalitarian propaganda.

These, then, are the consequences of taking a "short cut". We also would like to take one – but up to now all the alleged royal roads have led away from socialism instead of towards it.

There is simply no alternative to the task of making socialists. This is the most important lesson of the history of all reformist organizations. The charge of being "armchair philosophers" then, really means that we are not opportunist. To this we plead guilty.

But still – is there nothing we can do in the meantime? Are the workers to sit down and have their wages reduced? Are they to starve while capitalism lasts? This, if we believe our opponents, is our attitude. We have already shown that the charge rests on the failure to distinguish between economic and political demands. First of all, it should be obvious, that even if we wished to avoid the day-to-day struggle, we HAVE to take party in it. It is not something created by socialist agitators, or something we can ignore, but part and parcel of capitalism. Socialists take part in every struggle in the economic field to improve conditions. They are as militant as anybody else. But they realize that this struggle can never lead to emancipation of the working class. They point out its limitations. That's why they are member of the Companion Parties of Socialism. The function of the party is to make socialists, to propagate socialism, and to point out to the workers that they must achieve their own emancipation. It does not say: "Follow us! Trust us! We shall emancipate you." No, Socialism must be achieved by the workers acting for themselves.

-H.H. (August 1947)

"Instead of hollering ourselves hoarse about the virtues of mass action that can do something spectacular, and not understand why we do it, let us work in the sphere in which we find ourselves and teach Socialism to others of our class."
-J. A. McDonald (Western Clarion,
November 16, 1920)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Futility of the Greens

Editorial from the forthcoming January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

This article, aimed at the British Green Party, can be just as easily applied to the Green Party here in the States. Capitalism, no matter how progressive, can never be reformed in the interest of the working class or the planet.

People are right to be concerned about what is happening to the environment. Materials taken from nature are being transformed by human activity into substances which nature either can't decompose or can't decompose fast enough. The result is pollution and global threats such as the hole in the ozone layer and global warming.

There really is a serious environmental crisis. The issue is not whether it exists but what to do about it. The Green Party has one view. We have another.

The Green Party sees itself as the political arm of the wider environmental movement, arguing that it is not enough to be a pressure group, however militant, like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. Greens, it says, should organise as well to contest elections with the eventual aim of forming a Green government that could pass laws and impose taxes to protect the environment.

We say that no government can protect the environment.

Governments exist to run the political side of the profit system. And the profit system can only work by giving priority to making profits over all other considerations. So to protect the environment we must end production for profit.

Pollution and environmental degradation result from the inappropriate ways in which materials from nature are transformed into products for human use. But what causes inappropriate productive methods to be used? Is it ignorance or greed, as some Greens claim? No, it is the way production is organised today and the forces to which it responds.

Production today is in the hands of business enterprises, all competing to sell their products at a profit. All of them—and it doesn't matter whether they are privately owned or state-owned—aim to maximise their profits. This is an economic necessity imposed by the forces of the market. If a business does not make a profit it goes out of business. "Make a profit or die" is the jungle economics that prevails today.

Under the competitive pressures of the market businesses only take into account their own narrow financial interest, ignoring wider social or ecological considerations. All they look to is their own balance sheet and in particular the bottom line which shows whether or not they are making a profit.

The whole of production, from the materials used to the methods employed to transform them, is distorted by this drive to make and accumulate profits. The result is an economic system governed by uncontrollable market forces which compel decision-makers, however selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste.

Governments do not have a free hand to do what is sensible or desirable. They can only act within the narrow limits imposed by the profit-driven market system whose rules are "profits first" and "you can't buck the market".

The Green Party is not against the market and is not against profit-making. It imagines that, by firm government action, these can be tamed and prevented from harming the environment. This is an illusion. You can't impose other priorities on the profit system than making profits. That's why a Green government would fail.

The Green Party fails to realise that what those who want a clean and safe environment are up against is a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding economic law of profits first.

If the environmental crisis is to be solved, this system must go.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Man, The Enigma

From The Western Socialist, January, 1948

A strange animal – man – until we get to know him. Brilliant, in a sense, he has developed systems of production, exchange, communication, and transportation that make the other animals look rather stupid. But, on the opposite side of the scale, he suffers deficiencies that enhance the prestige of every competing organism.

While not the only animal that works, he is the only one that looks for work; the only one that works for wages, the only one that the boss can afford to leave alone while working. The only one subject to "separation anxiety" in regard to boss and job. He is the only animal capable of discussing his own affairs, and coming to the weird conclusion that he is lucky to have work. Truly, a strange animal.

In recent years a number of individuals, of high standing in professional and scientific circles, have made brave attempts to associate man with some form of divinity. While they concede that his framework may have been derived from lower forms of life, they contend that he is, at the same time, endowed with a soul or spirit that could emanate only from a beneficent creator.

Some time ago an eminent surgeon – Alexis Carrel – wrote a book called "Man the Unknown." With the knowledge we grant he possessed in his own field, he should have been able to present us with a valuable treatise on man the known. His experience in physiology and comparative anatomy was all he required to acquaint us with the fact that man is made of the same material as all other animals. His body is composed of cells that closely resemble the cells to be found in the horse or the jackass. Those cells are constructed of chemical elements that cannot be distinguished from each other. The organs of his body perform a function very much the same as the organs to be found in other forms of animal life.

Had Dr. Carrel seen fit to write us a book on what he had observed in the many years he followed his profession. We could readily excuse him for avoiding other realms of psychology, history, and economics to complete the picture of the man we know.

But the learned doctor was not satisfied to confine himself to an objective appraisal in his chosen field. In quixotic fashion he wasted the substance of the book in the metaphysical arena, trying to explain there was some sort of a heavenly transmission belt connecting the animal man with a higher intelligence. The nature of this unknown factor was just as obscure as it was at the beginning.

More recently another writer – the biologist, Dr. Lecomte du Nouy – has given us a book, that was favorably reviewed in the orthodox journals, entitled "Human Destiny." In this tome he essays to prove, to the satisfaction of every intelligent reader, that the evolution of man could never take place without a generous infusion of divinity.

A knowledge of the forces operative in evolution, the doctor assures us, leads to the conclusion that an all powerful creator has guided man's destiny all the way from the single cell to the complicated assemblage of trillions of cells that denotes the human body today. In every instance that science, through lack of records, is unable to put the finger on the immediate cause of any particular organic change, du Nouy shrewdly inserts the almighty as the major agent.

The author, brave as he tries to appear, seems to sense the weakness of his approach when he concedes that no materialist will be convinced by the kind of proof he adduces. Still, he insists that he must combat the paralyzing skepticism and destructive materialism that is rampant today.

This is it. He realizes that the nonsensical assumptions of the theologians are rapidly losing adherents in a scientific age. But the "opium of the people" must be perpetuated by those whose names are highly regarded because of what they have accomplished in special fields of science. There is no connection between their work on both fronts. The one nullifies the other. But the fiction of the two methods being identical serves a purpose.

The doctor can safely leave the dialectical materialists out of his campaign. They seem to have developed a theory, that holds water, to the effect that man, as well as the world he lives in, can be explained in terms of interplay of material factors, and the voodoo science of du Nouy could scarcely be accepted as a reasonable substitute thereof.

But the great mass of uneducated people, of which even modern society of composed, make a fertile field for the bogus field of pseudo science. Get to them, as quickly as possible, with a man plus divinity goulash, else the materialist goblins will get them. And the consequent disillusionment is certain to assist in disturbing the existent equation of rulers and ruled. Man must continue to be an unknown quantity.

From other, and more surprising sources we have confirmation of the enigma theory as applied to man. In an article in the "Truthseeker", and in a socialist pamphlet – "We Who Are About To Live*" – we find two opposing views of man's nature. The former tells us that man is naturally a warlike animal, while the latter explains that he is, by nature, a peaceful animal.

Both are equally erroneous. Both regard man as something static in a world that moves. In pursuit of what he considers to be his material interests, man can be either ferocious or quiescent. When hunger or danger threatens him, aggressive impulses are engenderd and promoted. He becomes an ugly and ornery creature bent upon the destruction of his fellow man.

When we watch a herd of hogs, feeding in a trough, we get a fairly accurate and comparable picture of man himself. When the trough is kept well filled with a choice collection of swill ingredients, the hogs are relatively contented and quiet. Their snouts move slowly through the trough in search of appealing tidbits. They leisurely probe the depths, and playfully blow bubbles. But, when a depression hits them, and the contents of the trough fail to conform to the mass appetite, they squirm and squeal, and bite each others ears in the quest of something to eat.

Even the hardy lion, in the opinion of those who have studied him at close range, has his mellow moods. He is quite affectionate in his home life. When he goes out in search of food he does not tear out saplings, that might be used for Christmas trees, and strew them along his path with impunity. He does not mangle smaller animals, and leave their carcasses untouched just to show who is boss. Only in his search for food for himself and his family does he manifest those murderous impulses that conferred upon him the appellation of king of beasts.

So with man. He is not instinctively either a good or a bad character. His actions are not determined by the divine manipulation advanced in the treatises of the worthy doctors – Carrel and du Nouy – but are, on the contrary the result of his inherited physical characteristics, expressing themselves through his environment and his efforts to survive.

-J.A. McDonald (January 1948)

*The observation that we must not regard man as being something static in a world that moves is quite valid. The pamphlet "If We Are to Survive (We Who Are About to Live) does not err in that regard. – Edit. Comm.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Wage-Slave-Off Days!

Isn't it nice tsanta claus marxo have a few days off from work, warming the cockles of our overgenerous souls after spending the past year producing large sums of wealth for the parasite class, singing Santa songs by the hearth, drinking mulled wine and pretty much anything else that will get us tipsy, opening our presents, and living those few golden days of celebration that we would wish for the other days of the year as well? But these holidays will end all too soon. We have barely begun to relax in our holiday mode when the alarm clock awakens us once again and we are back in the traffic. Back to returning home in the evening to a mail box as stuffed with bills as were the stockings with gifts just a few brief days ago.

There are so many things worth celebrating, for sure. Our children's birthdays. And a thousand victories for slaves, minorities, workers and women. But the birth of a baby who likely never existed and who spearheaded a movement whose work ethic seemed to fit in rather nicely with the decline of slavery and the rise of capitalism?

Capitalism requires a censoring of egoism since its basis is the benign production of profits for the ruling class by us, the idiot wage slave class. Never mind that the egoism of our employers is not in question, we who produce their wealth must slavishly do so with a sense of pride and joy. And then the rich have the cheek to expect us to give generously from our hard-earned but meager wages and salaries to a host of charities that promise to somewhat alleviate the suffering of fellow workers who would not be suffering in the first place if most of the wealth we produced went to us, the producers, instead of to them, the owners.

Charity? Let's have a little CLARITY! Let's get real. This Christian ethic is what keeps us in our place. What we need is a lot MORE egoism, not a lot less. What we need is to demand nothing less than the entire world for ourselves. And then I won't feel quite so silly singing Jingle Bells. Such a revolution would certainly give the capitalist class something to sing about.

It is hard to understand all this gift-giving if not in the context of our poverty. In our relative poverty as working people (relative because we might not be in absolute poverty, we might earn a half-decent salary but still never have enough to stop working for the class that owns the means of production) the things we produce have acquired a fetishistic quality.

We yearn for next year's model, every year. In our state of propertylessness, commodities acquire a special quality, a magical sheen of wholesomeness. Our separation from the goods of our own production which makes us incomplete has lent commodities a voice that promises to render us whole again. It is indeed a joy to give and to receive when our lives are always spent paying bills and budgeting those pieces of paper the bosses give us for working so hard.

In this world of alienation from the things we produce, it is the very act of exchange that has risen to an angelic level, as high as the angel on the top of the Christmas tree. The feeling of saintliness obtained by giving objects produced by other workers to members of the family is an example of this perversion. We are like pigeons rejoicing over the crumbs dropped by humans on the sidewalk. Where is our own substance, our own value, or have we become entirely subsumed by the values of commodity production?

Yes, it is really nice to take off a few days from work to revel in gift-giving and merry-making, but it is no substitute for taking off our lives from work on a permanent basis. Capitalism is a society that has transformed the planet into a giant labor camp only because most of humanity is denied access to the means of production. We are forced to work most days of the week, most weeks of the year, and most years of our lives, as there is no other way for us to get what we need to survive.

But get a little greedier, and start demanding your right to enjoy the fruits of the modern age without working so damn hard, and all of a sudden taking becomes more important than giving. Paradoxically, the more we insist on taking, the more we will have to share. It is as though the Christmas values of giving maintain our lot as those without enough to share amongst us in any meaningful sense. But the more we contrast the Christian value of giving with the revolutionary value of taking, the more we have to actually share! And I don't just mean the last roll of wrapping paper and the bowl of punch either.
I mean the whole bloody world.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Marxism versus Leninism

From the Socialist Standard, March 1990.

Marx's theory of socialist revolution is grounded on the fundamental principle that "the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself". Marx held to this view throughout his entire forty years of socialist political activity, and it distinguished his theory of social change from that of both those who appealed to the princes, governments and industrialists to change the world for the benefit of the working class (such as Robert Owen and Saint Simon) and of those who relied on the determined action of some enlightened minority of professional revolutionaries to liberate the working class (such as Buonarotti, Blanqui and Weitling).

Conscious Self-emancipation

Marx saw that the very social position of the working class within capitalist society as a non-owning, exploited, wealth-producing class forced it to struggle against its capitalist conditions of existence. This "movement" of the working class could be said to be implicitly socialist since the struggle was ultimately over who should control the means of production: the minority capitalist class or the working class (i.e. society as a whole). At first the movement of the working class would be, Marx believed, unconscious and unorganised but in time, as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, it would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves.

The emergence of socialist understanding out of the experience of the workers could thus be said to be "spontaneous" in the sense that it would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it about (not that such people could not take part in this process, but their participation was not essential or crucial). Socialist propaganda and agitation would indeed be necessary but would come to be carried out by workers themselves whose socialist ideas would have been derived from an interpretation of their class experience of capitalism. The end result would be an independent movement of the socialist-minded and democratically organised working class aimed at winning control of political power in order to abolish capitalism. As Marx and Engels put it in The Communist Manifesto, "the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority".

This in fact was Marx's conception of "the workers' party". He did not see the party of the working class as a self-appointed elite of professional revolutionaries, as did the Blanquists, but as the mass democratic movement of the working class with a view to establishing Socialism, the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production.

Lenin's Opposing View

This was Marx's view, but it wasn't Lenin's. Lenin in his pamphlet What Is To Be Done?, written in 1901-2, declared:

"The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical and economic theories that were elaborated by the educated representatives of the propertied classes, the intellectuals" (Foreign Languages Publishing House edition, Moscow, pp. 50-51).

"Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside of the economic struggle, from outside of the sphere of relations between workers and employers" (Lenin's emphasis, p.133).

"The spontaneous working class movement by itself is able to create (and inevitably creates) only trade unionism, and working class trade unionist politics are precisely working class bourgeois politics" (pp. 159-60) .

Lenin went on to argue that the people who would have to bring "socialist consciousness" to the working class "from without" would be "professional revolutionaries", drawn at first mainly from the ranks of the bourgeois intelligentsia. In fact he argued that the Russian Social Democratic Party should be such an "organisation of professional revolutionaries", acting as the vanguard of the working class. The task of this vanguard party to be composed of professional revolutionaries under strict central control was to "lead" the working class, offering them slogans to follow and struggle for. It is the very antithesis of Marx's theory of working class self-emancipation.

The Bolshevik Coup

The implication of Marx's theory of working class self-emancipation is that the immense majority of the working class must be consciously involved in the socialist revolution against capitalism. "The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority".

The Bolshevik coup in November, 1917, carried out under the guise of protecting the rights of the Congress of Soviets, did not enjoy conscious majority support, at least not for socialism, though their slogan "Peace, Bread and Land" was widely popular. For instance, elections to the Constituent Assembly, held after the Bolshevik coup and so under Bolshevik government, gave them only about 25 per cent of the votes.

John Reed, a sympathetic American journalist, whose famous account of the Bolshevik coup, Ten Days That Shook The World, was commended in a foreword by Lenin, quotes Lenin as replying to this kind of criticism in a speech he made to the Congress of Peasants' Soviets on 27 November, 1917:

"If Socialism can only be realized when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least five hundred years . . . The Socialist political party - this is the vanguard of the working class; it must not allow itself to be halted by the lack of education of the mass average, but it must lead the masses, using the Soviets as organs of revolutionary initiative…" (Reed's emphasis and omissions, Modern Library edition, 1960, p.15).

Compare this with a passage from the utopian communist, Weitling: "to want to wait . . . until all are suitably enlightened would be to abandon the thing altogether!" Not, of course, that it is a question of "all" the workers needing to be socialists before there can be Socialism. Marx, in rejecting the view that Socialism could be established by some enlightened minority, was merely saying that a sufficient majority of workers would have to be socialists.

Lenin's Legacy

Having seized power before the working class (and, even less, the 80 per cent peasant majority of the population) had prepared themselves for Socialism, all the Bolshevik government could do, as Lenin himself openly admitted, was to establish state capitalism in Russia. Which is what they did, while at the same time imposing their own dictatorship over the working class.

Contempt for the intellectual abilities of the working class led to the claim that the vanguard party should rule on their behalf, even against their will. Lenin's theory of the vanguard party became enshrined as a principle of government ("the leading role of the Party") which has served to justify what has proved to be the world's longest-lasting political dictatorship.

The self-emancipation of the working class, as advocated by Marx, remains on the agenda.

American Nightmares

From the Socialist Courier blog:

American Nightmare (I)

The so-called American dream wherein once poor immigrants became wealthy is turning out to be a nightmare for many American workers.

"The current deflation of home prices is changing America. It's a real estate storm that made landfall like a slow-moving Gulf Coast hurricane here in south Florida and in other once-booming housing markets last year. In recent months it has gathered momentum and spread, shaping up to become perhaps the worst home-price slump since the 1920s and '30s. The bust promises to have lasting effects. Among them: It is defining the limits, for now, of what President Bush has called the "ownership society." A surging foreclosure rate means that the rate of home ownership, after a historic rise, is falling." (Yahoo News, 10 December)

American Nightmare (II)

"More people are requesting emergency food aid and more homeless families with children are seeking shelter, concludes a 23-city survey released Monday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Four of five cities say requests for food aid rose an average of 12% from the previous year, according to the survey for the period covering November 2006 through October 2007. Most cities had reported a jump in such requests the prior year as well. Ten of 14 cities with data on homeless families say more families with children sought emergency shelter and transitional housing. About half of the cities say their overall homeless problem increased. Collectively, the cities report giving shelter to 193,183 people." (USA Today, 17 December)

Richard Donnelly

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Socialism and Immortality

de-grey.jpgThe latest book by Aubrey De Grey, "Ending Aging" (St. Martin's Press, 2007), raises the mind-bogglingly provocative possibility that science may within 20 years be able to extend human life long enough to develop successive improvements in life-extending therapies, thus potentially rendering humans who undergo such treatments immortal. It all seems to hinge upon the much-anticipated ability to extend the lifespan of a middle-aged 2-year-old mouse to 5 years rather than the usual 3 using bioengineering techniques that would essentially clean up the junk that is produced within and outside their cells, as it is with ours, which is a normal byproduct of the metabolic process.

You can see a video of an introductory talk by Dr. De Grey briefly outlining his engineering approach to indefinitely extending the human life span.

Capitalist society, for all its extraordinary scientific developments, has long reached the point at which it increasingly limits the potentials to enjoying the fruits of such developments by the human race. It is this tension between the mode of production and the means of production that introduces a potentially revolutionary situation for our species. Socialists are encouraging fellow humans around the world to work to bring us all to the next level of social evolution. As these brief words are being typed, vast resources are being plundered on killing human beings in the Middle East for the control of other resources (e.g., petroleum). This murderous waste of resources and its complete disregard for either life itself or the quality of life reminds us all each day of how the ingenuity of science is criminally derailed in the interests of filling the coffers of the rich.

Even disregarding the lowest levels of human existence afforded to the billions of the human race that face the indignities and miseries of squalor (which means their crime is to possess an insufficient number of monetary pieces of paper while the planet's owning millions spend their mountainous pile of such papers on mansions and Hummers), health care most certainly takes second place to profit-making, especially in the United States. This is clear to all of us insured and non-insured alike, even if we had not seen Michael Moore's latest movie "Sicko." And those of us here in the United States who do not live in absolute poverty but still stress excessively over paying bills, or who enjoy insufficient time to spend with our children because of our overburdened work week, or who are incapable of paying off our mortgages, must surely ask ourselves almost every day: "is this the best life I could possibly have - subordinating my entire existence to the welfare of my employers, putting up with inexcusable affronts to my physical and emotional health while awaiting a comfortable future that never seems to quite arrive?"

Socialists insist that the solution to these very unnecessary problems is not another change in the leaders that emerge from the privileged class, as you are now being asked in the United States to start choosing for the 2008 presidential election - another irrelevancy for most of us - but rather a change in ownership and control of the means by which the wealth is designed, produced, and distributed from private or state to common. Socialists do not advocate state control, as others sometimes mistakenly imagine, or are frequently misinformed in the press. Rather, they advocate common ownership, which means a form of inclusive democracy in which all humans would be eligible to contribute to the decision-making process as well as enjoy the fruits of production. And such fruits, of course, include the products of scientific brilliance.

Today, researchers investigating cures of illnesses must fight like pigeons over crumbs to receive appropriate funding for their projects. This should be considered by all of us, and not just a visionary handful, the crime which it is, denying us all significantly improved medical benefits that we could be, but are not, enjoying today. A society of common ownership will mean that need prioritizes the allocation of resources. Thus, citizens desiring vast improvements in health would by that desire alone become eligible for vast influxes of human and material resources allocated to medical research on a level that would enormously dwarf the relative lack of importance placed upon it in these barbaric days in which only the ability to realize a relatively short-term profit draws corporate or governmental funding, and even then in insufficient amounts, as advocacy organizations for each medical condition describe in their newsletters in justifiably plaintive tones.

It is quite possible that had humans realized a society of common ownership back in 1904 when our movement began, science might already have eradicated most of the illnesses that plague us today. Yes, also possibly including the ability to enjoy youthful lifespans ten times those presently available, as proposed by Dr. De Grey! Whether or not Dr. De Grey is overly optimistic on this score, one thing that we socialists advocate is not only the prioritization of such vital research, but also a life of freedom and abundance for all human beings around the planet that would actually render it, whatever its length, supremely valued, rich and desirable.

-Dr. Who

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Revolution in Russia -Where it Fails (1918)

From the Socialist Standard, August 1918. Written by Jack Fitzgerald, a founding member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain/The World Socialist Movement

By far the most important event in the social sense, which has occurred during the world war has been the upheaval in Russia, culminating in the revolution of March and November, 1917. For the working class these events are of supreme interest and worthy of close and deep study, not only for the purpose of keeping in touch with events as they occur, but also for learning the lessons these may impart.

Just here, however, the working class of Great Britain are faced with a most formidable obstacle in the way of their gaining even a slight knowledge of the happenings, or reaching a position where a full consideration could be given to the facts of the revolution. This obstacle is the Defence of the Realm Act.

By operations of this Act the master class sift all news coming into the country, by either Press or post, and take care that only matters allowed to be published are those that suit the interests of this class in one form or another. Thus, quite apart from their ownership of the General Press, they are able to prevent groups or individuals in this country obtaining information that might be useful to the working class. In other words, the only information or statements anyone outside of government circles can obtain here is just what it suits the master class to allow them to have.

In spite of this simple and glaring fact the I.L.P. have not hesitated in to denounce the action of November, usually called the "Bolshevik Revolution," while the S.L.P. has acclaimed it as a great Socialist revolution. Point is added to these facts by the appearance of two pamphlets written not only by Russians, but by men claiming to be Bolsheviks. Here, if anywhere, one might imagine, will be found useful information, concrete facts, detailed accounts of events, that would be useful in guiding us to a sound judgement. Unfortunately, nothing whatever is told in either pamphlet, apart from expressions of opinion, except the statements already given in the capitalist Press, which for the reasons above must be taken with the utmost caution.

The first pamphlet entitled, War or Revolution, is written by Leon Trotsky, and is published by the S.L.P. at Glasgow. No date of its writing is given, but from internal evidence it was seemingly written in 1915—before the fall of the Czar—and appears to have been originally published in America.

While claiming to be a Marxist Trotsky appears surprised at the actions of the so-called Socialist International in voting war credits and supporting the war. To any serious Marxian student this was only to be expected. The Socialist Party stands firm and solid on the line of the class war. Only here is he impregnable. Only on this basis can the workers organise successfully for the overthrow of capitalism. For years past the S.P.G.B. alone in this country, and the Marxist groups in other countries, have pointed out that sections from England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, etc., that formed the majority of the International, either had abandoned, or had never taken up, a stand upon the class war, and were therefore really not Socialists in the proper sense of the word. Their actions when the war began and since have simply emphasised the truth of our former case. That it took this world-slaughter to enlighten Trotsky as to the real position of these sections shows how little he grasped their actual attitude before. He is equally mistaken in his judgement of events in England, for on p.16 he says:

In England the Russian Revolution [1905] hastened the growth of independent Socialism.

Quite apart from the fact that the 1905 upheaval in Russia was a capitalist and not a Socialist movement, this statement is absolutely incorrect. A movement that is not independent cannot be Socialist, and the Russian episode had no measurable effect upon either the Labour or the Socialist movement in this country. The real break with the old compromising policy that had saturated the movement in England, took place in 1904—a year before the Russian outbreak—when the Marxists formed up in the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Equally mistaken is Trotsky's statement on the same page that "six or seven years ago [that is six or seven years before 1915] in England, the Labour Party, after separating from the Liberal Party, entered into the closest association with it again." As every student of the history of the Labour Party knows, that party has never been out of the "closest association" with the Liberal Party since the day it formed. Just as incorrect is the phrase in the concluding section (p.27) where the author says: "Socialist reformism has actually turned into Socialist imperialism."

Reformism and Imperialism are capitalist, and can by no stretch of the imagination be called Socialist. Such misuse of the latter word, especially by one claiming to be a Socialist, is a direct assistance to the master class in their endeavours to further confuse the minds of the working class by misrepresentation of various kinds.

The second pamphlet was written by M. Litvinoff in March 1918, but it adds nothing to our knowledge of affairs in Russia, as it simply consists of a selection of the statements that have appeared in the capitalist Press of this country. In some instances these statements are exceedingly useful against agents of the master class like Kerensky, and we have used these admissions ourselves in the SOCIALIST STANDARD when Kerensky was in power. Some of the other statements are significant in their bearing on the actions of the workers in Russia in a manner unsuspected of Litvinoff.

One feature of extreme and peculiar importance in these movements is treated by both the above writers in exactly the same manner, i.e., with silence. This feature is the economic and social position of the working class in Russia. For a matter of such importance to be neglected by both writers, shows either a lack of knowledge of the Russian situation or a deliberate attempt to conceal such knowledge from their readers. As two such Russians are either unable or unwilling to supply this information the only thing left is to take that available before the war and try to apply it to the solution of the present situation. Clearly this can only be a provisional judgement while awaiting reliable news of the revolutions and of the present position of the workers in Russia.

Even to-day Russia is largely an agricultural country, some authorities stating that 80 per. cent of the population are engaged in that calling. Their system, however, has certain peculiar features that would take a large volume to describe.

In the main the agricultural population is divided up in village groups or communities largely based on what is called the "Mir." Each peasant is allotted a certain amount of land, depending on the number of his family. The holdings are changed periodically so as to prevent any one individual retaining the best land. If the population increases beyond the limits of the land controlled by the "Mir," a group forms up and moves out to new lands in a manner so well described by Julius Faucher in his brilliant essay on The Russian Agrarian System. As this group is related to the old "Mir," communication and intercourse are kept up and a division of a race may have a whole series villages spread out over a certain area, and having a more or less loose connection with each other. The land, however, is not owned by the village group. In the ultimate it is owned by the Czar in his capacity as "Father of the People" though large number of estates have been granted to the Nobles for their military and other services rendered to the Crown.

This ownership, whatever particular form it may take, is admitted by all the "Mir" by the payment of a charge for the land, usually termed a tax. This tax is paid to the Noble where he holds an estate and to the Czar where the latter is personal owner.

Into the developments, complications, abuses and rogueries that have resulted from this system we have not the space to go. One illustration can be found in Carl Joubert's Russia as it really is and Stepaniak in his Russian Peasantry, has given a masterly description of its workings. It will be sufficient to point out that apart from minor modifications three broad divisions have developed.

In the wild forest regions of the North, the people are still in the upper stage of Barbarism, being a mixture of hunters and pastoral workers, who know practically nothing of the affairs of the outer world. In the middle regions the spread of the use of money and the effects that follow have resulted in more modern methods of working the estates. Owing to the heavy tax imposed large numbers of peasants have been unable to pay this charge after a poor season, with the inevitable result that they fall into the hands of money-lenders—who in numerous cases are actual members of the "Mir" —or they have to give up their holdings and either work for the money-lender or drift into the towns in search of work.

In the South or "Black Belt" region, largely owing to the fertility of the soil, old-fashioned methods still persist and the peasants make desperate struggles to retain their holdings, but were slowly losing their grip before the war.

The abolition of serfdom on private estates in 1861 and on the Czar's estates in 1871, was loudly announced as a great emancipation of the peasants. Under these decrees the peasants were supposed to be placed in a position were they could purchase their holdings, either individually or as a village group or Mir. The Nobles, of course, still retained the bulk of the estates granted to them, and it was intended that the big landlords would be balanced in the social system by the large number of small owners or peasant proprietors that would be sure to follow the great act of "emancipation". In the vast majority of cases, of course, the whole thing was a fraud and the landlords and moneylenders being the only ones, as a rule, able to purchase land, we have the paradox that the measure introduced to extend peasant proprietorship has resulted in the concentration of large estates in fewer hands than before. This has increased the number of landless peasants which recent estimates have placed at about one-third of the agricultural population, while even those who favour the system do not claim that more than another third have become owners of the land, either individually or through their village groups. The local affairs of the Mir are managed by the open general meetings, and these meetings elect the Elder or Mayor, who is the spokesman and delegate before the authorities. As stated above, the moneylender of the village is often a member of the Mir, and owing to his economic hold on the peasants he is often elected as the Elder.

It was, and is, people of this type that Kerensky represents. The Mir, of course, is under general Government control, usually through a "superintendent" or police officer.

In the Western area and the Southern Oil Belt industrial towns of the usual capitalist type, have developed in late years, and contain a number of genuine proletarians or wage slaves.

Is this huge mass of people, numbering about 160,000,000 and spread over eight and a half millions of square miles, ready for Socialism? Are the hunters of the North, the struggling peasant proprietors of the South, the agricultural wage slaves of the Central Provinces, and the industrial wage slaves of the towns convinced of the necessity, and equipped with the knowledge requisite, for the establishment of the social ownership of the means of life?

Unless a mental revolution such as the world has never seen before has taken place, or an economic change has occurred immensely more rapidly than history has recorded, the answer is "No!"

And it is extremely significant that neither Trotsky nor Litvinoff say a single word on this aspect of the situation. In fact, as far as one can judge, the best, but all too brief, account of the present position in certain parts of Russia is given by Mr. Price in his articles in the Manchester Guardian during November and December, 1917.

Leaving aside the subsidiary differences in the economic positions of the different provinces, the one great fact common to the mass of the peasantry is their desire to be rid of the burden of the tax they have to pay for their land, whether to the local lord or to the Government, so that they may gain a livelihood from their holdings. This applies to both the individual and the group holders. Hence the peasants' movements are not for social ownership, but merely for the abolition of the tax burden and their right to take up new land as the population increases. In other words, they only wish to be free the old system of individual or group cultivation from governmental taxes and control. The agricultural and industrial wage-workers would be in a similar position economically as the same class of workers in Western Europe, if allowance is made for the lesser capitalist development of Russia.

What justification is there, then, for terming the upheaval in Russia a Socialist Revolution? None whatever beyond the fact that the leaders in the November movement claim to be Marxian Socialists. M. Litvinoff practically admits this when he says (p.37):

In seizing the reigns of power the Bolsheviks were obviously playing a game with high stake. Petrograd had shown itself entirely on their side. To what extent would the masses of the proletariat and the peasant army in the rest of the country support them?

This is a clear confession that the Bolsheviks themselves did not know the views of the mass when they took control. At a subsequent congress of the soviets the Bolsheviks had 390 out of a total of 676. It is worthy of note that none of the capitalist papers gave any description of the method of electing either the Soviets or the delegates to the Congress. And still more curious is it that though M. Litvinoff says these delegates "were elected on a most democratic basis", he does not give the slightest information about this election. This is more significant as he claims the Constituent Assembly "had not faithfully represented the real mind of the people"


From the various accounts and of the capitalist Press (and, as stated above, M. Litvinoff does not supply us with any other information) it seem the Bolsheviks form the driving force, and perhaps even the majority, of the new Government, sometimes called the Soviet Government and sometimes the "Council of Peoples' Commissaries". The Soviet Government certainly appears to have been accepted, or at least acquiesced in, by the bulk of the Russian workers. The grounds for this acceptance are fairly clear. First the Soviet Government promised peace; secondly they promised a settlement of the land question; thirdly they announced a solution of the industrial workers grievances. Unfortunately various and often contradictory accounts are given of the details of this programme, and Litvinoff's statements are in vague general terms that give no definite information on the matter. Until some reliable account of the Soviet Government's programme is available detailed judgement must remain suspended. That this mixed Government should have been tacitly accepted by the Russian workers is no cause for surprise. Quite the contrary. They (the Soviet Government) appear to have done all that was possible in the circumstances to carry their peace proposals. And we are quite confident that if the mass of the people in any of the belligerent countries, with the possible exception of America, were able to express their views, free from consequences, on Peace or Continuance of War, an overwhelming majority would declare in favour of Peace.

As is admitted by the various sections of the capitalist Press, the Soviet representatives at the Brest-Litovsk Conference stood firm on their original proposals to the last moment. That they had to accept hard terms in the end is no way any discredit to them, but it was a result of conditions quite beyond their control. If they had done no more than this, if they had been compelled to give up office on their return, the fact that they had negotiated a stoppage of the slaughter and maiming of millions of the working class would have been a monument to their honour, and constituted an undeniable claim to the highest approbation of the workers the world over.

Of course the capitalist Press at once denounced the signing of the Peace treaty as "dastardly treachery", and so on. We can quite easily understand that the agents of the foullest and most hypocritical ruling class the world has ever seen, steeped to their eyes in their own cruel treacheries, should have been astounded at the Soviet Government keeping its pledge to the Russian people, instead of selling them out to the Allied Governments.

Then follow the usual stereotyped "outrages" and "crimes" that the master class agents never fail to provide when an opponent dares to stand in their path. Unfortunately for these capitalist agents, their own correspondents are allowed to move freely over the country, and often "give the game away" by describing improvements both in ordinary administration and economic conditions under the new rule. And Mr. Litvinoff scores neatly here over the capitalist Press by comparing the alleged "outrages" with the actions of the master class against the workers after the fall of the Paris commune. A still more striking illustration is given by the Mr. Price from Russia itself, in his article in the Manchester Guardian for November 28th , 1917, where he describes the cold-blooded slaughter of 500,000 Khirgiz Tartars by the Czar's Government in 1916. And he caustically remarks:

While Western Europe has heard about Armenian massacres, the massacre of the Central Asian Moslems by the Tsar's agents has been studiously hidden."

Indeed, if the Soviet Government were to start on a campaign of deliberate slaughter, it would take them many busy years to even approach the huge number of victims of the last Czar's reign. But so far all the evidence points to the allegations of Bolshevik butcheries being but a tissue of lies fabricated to suit bourgeois purposes.

And what of the future? It is impossible to offer any close forecast in the face of our lack of knowledge. We do not know what the Soviet Government has promised the peasants. We are ignorant of what measures they are putting into operation to solve the complicated land question. Despite the existence of the Mir organisation it will be easier for the Russian government to arrange for the management of the factories and industries of the towns than to settle the various and widely divergent, detailed demands of the peasants of the different provinces. There is no ground whatever for supposing that they are ready or willing to accept social ownership of the land, along with the other means of production. Are the Bolsheviks prepared to try to establish something other than this? If so does it not at once flatly contradict M. Litvinoff's claim that they are establishing Socialism?

And grim shadows are spreading from both sides. On one side the Germans are trying to exploit and plunder as much as possible why they have the chance; on the other side the Japanese, assisted by British and American forces are entering on an exactly similar expedition, with the same objects in view. Also it has been reported that the Allied forces landing on the Murman coast are either under the command of or are accompanied by a notorious Czarist officer, General Gourko, who is working hard for the restoration of the Romanoffs.

With the mass of the Russian people still lacking the knowledge necessary for the establishment of socialism, with both groups of belligerents sending armed forces into the country, with the possible combination of those groups for the purpose of restoring capitalist rule, even if not a monarchy, in Russia, matters look gloomy for the people there. If the capitalist class in the belligerent countries succeed in this plan, the Soviet Government and its supporters may expect as little mercy as—nay, less than—the Khirgiz Tartars received. It may be another Paris Commune on an immensely larger scale.

Every worker who understands his class position will hope that some way will be found out of the threatened evil. Should that hope be unrealised, should further victims be fated to fall to the greed and hatred of the capitalist class, it will remain on record that when members of the working class took control of affairs in Russia, they conducted themselves with vastly greater humanity, managed social and economic matters with greater ability and success and with largely reduced pain and suffering, than any section of the cunning, cowardly, ignorant capitalist class were able to do, with all the numerous advantages they possessed.

-Jack Fitzgerald

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dead man writing - Bukharin’s last works

A book review from the December 2005 Socialist Standard

Dead man writing

Philosophical Arabesques. By Nikolai
Bukharin. Pluto Press. 2005.

While Bukharin was in prison, awaiting the show trial that would lead to him being sentenced to death and executed in 1938 on preposterous, trumped-up charges of sabotage and treason, he chose to spent the time writing books. One of these was on philosophy. It was found in the Kremlin archives after the fall of state capitalism, published in Russia and now in English translation.

Bukharin was one of the more interesting and able of the Bolsheviks. Even before the Bolshevik seizure of power he had written a couple of books which are quite acceptable as an expression of a Marxist point of view: Imperialism and the World Economy and The Theory of the Leisure Class (a criticism of the Austrian school of marginalist economics), both written in 1914 when he was 26. After the Bolsheviks came to power he was an obvious candidate to codify Bolshevik theory; which he did in The ABC of Communism (written with E. Preobrazhensky) (1919), The Economics of the Transformation Period (1920), and The Theory of Historical Materialism (1921) which are sophisticated defences of Bolshevik theory and practice using Marxian terminology and concepts.

As a member of the Politburo, Bukharin also played a political role. In the struggles amongst the Bolshevik leaders following the death of Lenin in 1924, he supported the policy of consolidating the Bolshevik regime internally (as opposed to trying to foment world revolution) favoured by Stalin and most members of the Russian party. In fact, as editor of Pravda in the 1920s, it fell to him to come up with a theoretical defence of this policy.

It can even be said that he, even more than Stalin, elaborated the theory of "socialism in one country" so reviled by Trotskyists. To do so he had to identify "socialism" with the state sector of the economy, i.e. with what he had once called "state capitalism" (he had temporarily been one of the "leftist blockheads" denounced by Lenin in 1918 for opposing the Bolsheviks' economic policy of the time as "state capitalism": of course it was state capitalism, retorted Lenin, adding that, what's more, state capitalism would be a step forward for economically backward Russia). He opposed the adoption of Stalin's policy of forced industrialization and collectivisation of agriculture in 1929 and so fell from favour, but remained a leading figure in the regime. However,once Stalin decided in the mid-1930s to eliminate all potential rivals he was a doomed man.

Perhaps surprisingly, Philosophical Arabesques represents a return to his earlier Marxist approach to things, in the tradition of Plekhanov who wrote extensively on materialism and problems of philosophy. He does follow rather slavishly Lenin's philosophical views as expressed in Materialism and Empiriocriticism (1908) and Philosophical Notebooks (1915), but these were not all that different from those of other pre-WWI Social Democrats in the Marxist tradition. The trouble was that Lenin was intellectually intolerant and in his 1908 book violently denounced other materialists, who didn't agree with his version of materialism, for being not materialists but crypto-idealists, solipsists (people who believe that only their self exists) and what he called "fideists" (religious).

Thus, it is rather offputting to find in the opening chapters of Bukharin's book the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume described as a "subjective idealist" and a "solipsist", whereas all he had done was to question whether or not such a thing as absolute knowledge was possible (a proposition also challenged, even if from a different angle, by dialectics). Hume - and the others in the British empiricist tradition which includes Bertrand Russell and AJ Ayer, both declared atheists - were not "idealists" in the sense of believing that the outside world only existed in the mind and were certainly not so mad as to think that only they existed.

They are certainly open to criticism for their approach of starting from the point of view of an isolated philosopher sitting in his study trying to work out, on the basis of his personal sense-perceptions, if he really can either know or believe that the outside world and other people exist; instead of from the point of view of humans living and producing as a social and socialised group - a criticism Bukharin also makes of them, pointing out that the fact that the isolated philosopher uses words to think shows in itself that other humans must exist since language is a product of human society. But to call them names that suggest they deny the existence of a world outside the human mind is absurd, in fact a display of ignorance.

Bukharin is more at home with German philosophy (which really was idealist) - Kant, Schelling, Fichte, Hegel. Although he mentions Hegel in every chapter, he provides a balanced view of his system, warts and all (and some of the warts were enormous) and of what Marx took from it as its "rational core".

Basically, what Marx retained and applied to the real world as opposed to the world of ideas was (1) that you should not judge by empirical appearances alone (otherwise you might think that the Sun went round the Earth) but try, by theoretical analysis, to get at what might be behind them, (2) that everything is an inter- related part of the whole that is the universe, and (3) that everything is in a constant process of being transformed into something else, but that this change is not always continuous but involves leaps and breaks.

Add to this the traditional materialist view, that non-living nature preceded living forms of nature, that as an animal capable of abstract thought and consciousness of self humans evolved from animals without this capacity, and that mind and consciousness cannot exist apart from a living body, and you have "dialectical materialism".

Whether dialectics is the basic law of motion of the universe (as Bukharin argues) or a human description and interpretation of what they observe in nature remains a subject of debate, even amongst Marxists.

Bukharin's book would be of interest merely as the writing of someone who knows he is soon going to be killed but it is also worth reading in its own right as a work of philosophy. Bukharin obviously thought this an important subject to choose it as his last writing. He even asked to be executed by poison "like Socrates". Stalin let him be shot.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Socialism in a nutshell

Socialism must be comprised of three main things:

1. Common Ownership.
2. Democratic Control.
3. Production solely for use.

These features of socialist society would be dependent on each other and could only operate together as basic parts of an integrated social system. In combination, these define a way of organizing society that in every important aspect of production, distribution, decision making and social administration, is clearly distinguished from the operation of capitalist society.

1. Common ownership means that the entire structure of production and all natural resources be held in common by all people. This means that every person will stand in equal relationship with every other person with respect to the means of producing the things we need to live, that is, mines, industrial plants, manufacturing units, all land and farms, and all means of transport and distribution. This also means the common ownership of all natural resources. Perhaps "common ownership" is partly a misnomer because what is meant is that means of production and resources would not be owned by anyone. In place of the property relationships of owners and non-owners, means of production will simply be available to the whole community to be used and developed solely for the needs of all people.

2. Democratic control means that social policy would be decided by communities. In place of rule by governments, public decisions would be made by people themselves. One great advantage of democratic practice in socialism would be not only the organization of decision making but also the freedom to carry out those decisions. This freedom of action would arise from direct control of community affairs following the enactment of common ownership and removal of the economic constraints of the capitalist system. Without powers of action decision-making is meaningless.

3. Production solely for use means just what it says. People in socialism would be free to co-operate voluntarily with each other in producing goods directly for the needs of the community. This would be useful labor co-operating to produce useful goods solely for consumption. Production solely for use would replace production for sale at a profit. Things produced for sale under the capitalist system are of course intended to supply a need of one kind or another but as commodities they are produced primarily with a view to money gain and the increase of money capital. As a general rule the market system is a system of 'no profit no production'. In socialism this profit motive would be entirely removed. In a moneyless socialist society the factors of production would operate only in a useful form and not as economic categories with a price. Labor would not be wage labor serving the interests of an employer but would be free labor. People at work would be creating only useful things and not economic values from which profit is derived.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Is common ownership against human nature?

Hunting, Gathering and Co-operating

from the Socialist Standard, January 2001.

Is a change in the basis of society from one of minority class ownership to one of common ownership against human nature?

Are human beings naturally lazy, aggressive, hostile to one another? Or are we by nature friendly and co-operative, ready to help others when they are in trouble and share what we have with them? Or alternatively, does it make little or no sense to say that we are anything very specific "by nature", since the society and culture we live in play a great part in determining how we behave? Questions like these have been around for centuries, and they are important for the socialist case, for if people are bound to behave aggressively and take more than their fair share, then a socialist society, based on equality and co-operation, is presumably impossible.

The questions we raised above are part of the debate on human nature. One recent academic contribution to these issues is the theory of evolutionary psychology, which attempts to apply Darwin's way of explaining biological evolution to human behaviour and psychology. Darwin's theory of natural selection explains how organisms change by adapting to their environment and so becoming more fitted to survive and reproduce. Evolutionary psychology uses the same kinds of arguments in attempting to account for human behaviour and the nature of the human mind which underlies this behaviour. In the words of leading evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker, in his book How the Mind Works:

"The mind is organized into modules or mental organs, each with a specialized design that makes it an expert in one arena of interaction with the world. The modules' basic logic is specified by our genetic program. Their operation was shaped by natural selection to solve the problems of the hunting and gathering life led by our ancestors in most of our evolutionary history."

This, to take one of Pinker's own examples, according to evolutionary psychology our disgust at unpleasant food is not due to any innate dislike for particular tastes. Rather, it would be an adaptation that emerged as a safety device: we don't eat things unless we are pretty sure that they are unlikely to harm us; thus we stand a good chance of avoiding foodstuffs that may well be poisonous—an invaluable trait in a world where humans relied on hunting and gathering but were surrounded by masses of potentially toxic plants and animals.

Hunting and gathering (sometimes known as foraging) is the way that humans lived for 90 percent of our species' time on earth. People lived in smallish tribes, moving frequently from place to place, gathering wild plants and hunting animals. Money did not exist, nor did any form of government, and there was no distinction between rich and poor. The rise of settled agriculture about ten thousand years ago put an end to hunting-gathering communities in most parts of the world, though some are still just about surviving nowadays.

A lot would seem to rest, then, if the evolutionary psychologists are right, on the nature of hunting-gathering society: if it was essentially peaceful and based on sharing, then the human brain and mind would have evolved to fit in with a peaceful way of doing things, whereas if hunter-gatherers were often violent, then (on the evolutionary psychologists' view, anyway) our minds are adapted to survive in a violent world. Let's quote Pinker again, as he makes the political issues here quite explicit:

"One of the fondest beliefs of many intellectuals is that there are cultures out there where everybody shares freely. Marx and Engels thought that preliterate peoples represented a first stage in the evolution of civilization called primitive communism, whose maxim was 'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs' . . .

Foraging peoples, to be sure, really do share with nonrelatives, but not out of indiscriminate largesse or a commitment to socialist principles. The data from anthropology show that sharing is driven by cost-benefit analyses and a careful mental ledger for reciprocation. People share when it would be suicidal not to . . . warfare itself is a major fact of life for foraging tribes. Many intellectuals believe that primitive warfare is rare, mild and ritualized, or at least was so until the noble savages were contaminated by contact with Westerners. But this is romantic nonsense. War has always been hell."

Most work in evolutionary psychology takes a similar view, that hunting-gathering society was built around—or at least marked by—power and aggression, and that therefore the human mind has evolved along lines designed to enable us to cope with power and aggression.

More recently, however, an alternative has begun to emerge within evolutionary psychology itself. Andrew Whiten of St Andrew's University has argued that egalitarianism, sharing and lack of domination were the most prominent features in hunter-gatherer societies, and that it is this is that lies behind human psychological evolution. In papers such as "The evolution of deep social mind in humans" and "Egalitarianism and Machiavellian intelligence in human evolution" (the latter co-written with David Erdal) he has presented a very different picture from that offered by most evolutionary psychologists. At a recent conference in Edinburgh, Whiten argued that our ancestors evolved through sharing and co-operation in line with socialist ideals, a claim that was even noticed in the press (Times, 19 August). Let's look a little more closely at his ideas.

Examination of a wide range of studies of present-day hunter-gatherers shows that they share food, especially meat, and that this sharing takes place even when food is scarce. This sharing, Erdal and Whiten argue, occurs because it reduces the risk for all individuals, enabling them to get by on unlucky days, secure in the knowledge that some time soon they are likely to be successful in their own hunting. Sharing means that nobody has priority of access to food, and this ties in with the fact that hunter-gatherer societies lack any kind of dominance or rank. There are no permanent leaders, and anyone who has ambitions for dominance is ridiculed or ostracised. Co-operation extends beyond food-sharing and countering would-be chiefs, as it also involves co-ordination, such as the organisation of hunting expeditions and care for the sick.

Non-human primates (chimps and gorillas) do have dominance hierarchies, so the human capacity for egalitarianism is an evolutionary innovation. According to Whiten possibly people who put time and effort into trying to dominate others found they had less time to devote to foraging and enjoyable leisure pursuits, so the would-be leaders discovered that they were living less well than their more co-operative colleagues. This last part is speculative, but it does help to emphasise the point that humans are different from our closest non-human relatives, so that it is quite invalid to argue that whatever holds for chimps must be valid for people too.

So what does Whiten's work have to say about the prospects for socialism? The answer is: not necessarily very much. It would be nice if we could conclude that human characteristics, as they have evolved over the millennia, have made us "naturally" egalitarian and co-operative. But what matters is not whether people are naturally like this or not. More important is whether our behaviour, influenced as it is not just by our evolutionary heritage but also by the social conditions we live in and our cultural response to these conditions, can fit in with the idea of a co-operative and egalitarian socialist society. Even under capitalism people often share and work together. Hunter-gatherer societies also show that people can live in a co-operative way, without bosses or governments. It might be nice to bolster this by claiming that humans' long egalitarian heritage means that we are better adapted to sharing than to competing, but this extra, and more speculative, argument is not really essential.

We may conclude that humans are not condemned to be endlessly competitive or selfish, and that socialism is not contrary to human nature.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Saving Earth or Saving Profits

Translated from a leaflet distributed by socialists in France. Printed in the latest Socialist Standard.

The environment is not under threat from industrial production as such, but from this in the service of profit-seeking.

All forms of vegetable and animal life are part of a network of relations called an "ecosystem" in ecology. Normally this system is self-regulating to the extent that, if an imbalance develops, this is rectified spontaneously, either by the restoration of the previous balance or by the establishment of a new balance.

The problem is that there's been the industrial revolution: the pollution of water and the ground due to the massive disposal of toxic or non-recyclable wastes and to the use in intensive agriculture of chemical fertilisers, nitrates and pesticides; the pollution of the oceans due to the increase of maritime traffic, the flow from polluted rivers, the shipwreck of oil tankers (70 alone in 1996!), the discharge of toxic, chemical and radioactive waste, desludging at sea, etc; overfishing; the pollution of the air due to the massive use of fossil fuels, the development of the individual motor car, and the clearance by fire of forests (despite these being the lungs of the planet!); industrial accidents (Seveso (1996), Bhopal (1984), Chernobyl (1986), Toulouse (2001)); the emission of greenhouse gases (CO2) by petrol vehicles and factories, deforestation, leading to global warming and its consequences (rise in the sea level due to the melting of the icepack and of polar and continental glaciers, floods, desertification, storms); acid rain; extinction of living species; introduction of GM organisms; storage of nuclear waste; expansion of towns (where now more than half the world's population live).

And for a good reason! No State is going to implement legislation which would penalise the competitiveness of its national enterprises in the face of foreign competition. States only take into account environmental questions if they can find an agreement at international level which will disadvantage none of them. But that's the snag because competition for the appropriation of world profits is one of the bases of the present system. Attempts at international cooperation have already been made: the League of Nations, then the UN, for example, were set up to "maintain" peace. But the 20th century saw the most devastating and murderous wars in history!

No agreement to limit the activities of the multinationals in their relentless quest for profits is possible. Measures in favour of the environment (and the far-reaching transformation of the productive apparatus and transport system these imply) come up against the interests of enterprises (and their shareholders!) because by increasing costs they decrease profits.

Humans are capable, whatever the form of production, of integrating themselves into a stable ecosystem. That was the case of many "primitive" societies which coexisted in complete harmony with the rest of nature, and there is nothing whatsoever that prevents this being possible today on the basis of industrial technology and methods of production, all the more so that renewable energies exist (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, waves, biomass, etc) but, for the capitalists, these are a "cost" which penalises them in face of international competition.

So it's not production as such (i. e., the fashioning of nature to meet human needs) which is incompatible with a stable balance of nature, but the application of certain productive methods which disregard natural balances or which involve changes that are too rapid to allow a natural balance to develop.

The preservation of the environment is a social problem which requires humanity to establish a viable and stable relationship with the rest of nature. In practice this implies a society which uses, as far as possible, renewable energy and raw material resources and which practises the recycling of non-renewable resources; a society which, once an appropriate balance with nature has been formed, will tend towards a stable level of production, indeed towards "zero growth". This does not mean that changes are to be excluded on principle, but that any change will have to respect the environment by taking place at a pace to which nature can adapt. But the employment by capitalism of destructive methods of production has, over two centuries, upset the balance of nature.

Whether it is called "the market economy", "economic liberalism", "free enterprise" or any other euphemism, the social system under which we live is capitalism. Under this system the means of the production and distribution of social wealth – the means of society's existence – are the exclusive property of a dominant parasitic minority – the holders of capital, or capitalist class – for whose benefit they are inevitably managed.

As a system governed by economic laws which impose themselves as external constraints on human productive activities, and in which enterprises are in competition with each other to obtain short-term economic gains, capitalism pushes economic decision-makers to adopt productive methods which serve profitability rather than concern for the future.

So it is not "Man" but the capitalist economic system itself which is responsible for ecological problems. In fact, not only have workers no influence over the decisions taken by enterprises but those who do have the power to decide - the capitalists - are themselves subject to the laws of profit and competition.

Of course capitalism has sooner or later to face up to the ecological problems caused by the search for profit, but only afterwards, after the damage has been done. But the ecologists, so critical of "liberal" capitalism, accept, like all the other varieties of reformism, the economic dictatorship of the owning minority since they don't understand the link that exists between the destruction of the environment and the private ownership of the means of production. That is why the Greens were forced to make concessions when, from 1997-2002, they were part of the Jospin government: over the authorisations given by this government of the "plural" Left, in November 1997 and July 1998, for transgenetic maize, over nuclear questions and other matters, not to mention their complicity over "social" questions such as the suppression of 3100 jobs with the closure of the Renault factory at Vilvord or the repression of the occupation of employment offices by the unemployed in 1997, the closure of the naval shipyards in Le Havre in 1998, the calling into question of retirement at age 60 with a full pension, or the suppression of 10,000 hospital beds in the Ile de France in 1999, etc.

Because by definition capitalism can only function in the interest of the capitalists, no palliative, no rearrangement, no measure, no reform can (nor ever will be able to) subordinate capitalist private property to the general interest. For this reason only the threat of a socialist movement setting down as the only realistic and immediate aim the establishment of social property (hence the name socialism) of society's means of existence so as to ensure their management by (and so in the interest of) the whole community, would be able to force the capitalists to concede reforms favourable to the workers for fear of losing the whole cake.

So it is for building such a movement that we launch an appeal to all workers who understand the opposition and incompatibility of their interests with those of the capitalists, to all those who, concerned about the ceaseless attacks of which we are the victims and of the dangers to which the capitalists are exposing our planet, want not to patch up but to end existing society. Our numerical superiority allows all hope.

It is only after having placed the means of society's existence under the control of the community that we will be able to at last ensure their management, no longer in the selfish interest of their present owners, but this time really in the general interest.

Only then will we be in a position to achieve a world in which the present system of rival States will be replaced by a world community without frontiers, the rationing of money and the wages system by free access to the wealth produced, competition by cooperation, and class antagonism by social equality.

We can only "cure the planet" by establishing a society without private productive property or profit where humans will be freed from the uncontrollable economic laws of the pursuit of profit and the accumulation of capital. In short, only a world socialist society, based on the common ownership and democratic control of natural resources, is compatible with production that respects the natural environment.

Friday, November 30, 2007

India joins the scramble for Africa

Reposted from Socialist Banner:

A delegation from Chad, which met external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee and minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh, has expressed willingness to allow India to participate in oil exploration in the country. India has offered Chad training in various sectors, including the petroleum sector, in exchange for participation in oil exploration in the West African country.

The Chad government, which wants Indian expertise in setting up a fertiliser plant, a cement factory and technical know-how in the dairy and leather industry, is only too willing to trade with oil blocks. Sources said the Chad government in response to the Indian interest has said it will look at giving oil blocks to India.

Chad also has a huge reserve of minerals, including uranium. "Yes, we have uranium reserves. We have already signed contracts with three companies for carrying out exploration activities. There are more blocks, and I would invite Indian companies,"

India is looking at raising its oil and gas imports from energy-rich Africa. To meet its growing domestic demand, the country is planning to import nearly 38 per cent more crude oil from the region in the next three years. The Petroleum Secretary said India wants to acquire more oil and gas fields as well as other energy projects like refineries, petrochemical plants, and pipelines in the region.

To unlock Chad's oil wealth, a 1,000 mile pipeline from Chad through Cameroon to the coast was constructed. The project was backed by the World Bank, which lent money and support on condition Let's use oil revenues to benefit all that much of the revenue from the oil wealth would go to poverty alleviation programmes.
This was written into Chad's laws.The particulars of the agreement (actually the law) were that 80 per cent of oil revenues would be spent on development projects, particularly in the social sector. The money would be kept in a Citibank account in London.
It looked like a foolproof deal. Barely two years later in 2005, the Chadian government changed the law and gave itself more discretion to spend the oil revenue as it pleased. As is to be expected in the circumstances, some of the money was used to purchase arms to shore up efforts to beat off a rebellion against the government. So on July 14, 2006, the World Bank and Chad signed a memorandum of understanding (another agreement) under which the Government committed 70 per cent of oil revenues to poverty reduction programmes.

But some top oil producers, which include Angola, Chad and Nigeria, did not make any gains in GNP , prompting the World Bank to conclude that mineral resources "do not always determine success".