Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Next Frontier

Over the last few centuries, one region of the planet after another has been "opened up" to capitalist plunder. Often rival capitalist powers fought over the spoils of conquest. In the 19th century they had the "scramble for Africa." In the 21st they are scrambling to control the resources of the Arctic, which global warming and technological advance are making accessible to exploitation (Socialist Standard, September 2007).

Once the Arctic and Antarctic are brought fully under the sway of capital, what next? Won't that be the end of the story, the closing of the last frontier? There remains space, to be sure. But won't the costs of extracting resources and transporting them to Earth be prohibitive? So you might think.

In fact, the strategists of the six powers that now have active space programs – the United States, Russia, the European Union, China, India, and Japan – already have their sights on the commercial and military potential of the cosmos.


On 22 October India launched the Chandrayaan-1 satellite, and on 11 November it entered Moon orbit. One of its main tasks is to map deposits of Helium-3 (He-3). This isotope, used together with deuterium (H-2), is the optimal fuel for nuclear fusion: in particular, it minimises radioactive emissions. It is very rare on Earth – according to one estimate, only 30 kg is available – because the solar wind that carries it is blocked by the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field. The dust and rocks in the Moon's surface layer contain millions of tonnes of the stuff.

It has been calculated that a single shuttle flight bearing a load of 25 tonnes (currently valued at $100 billion) would meet energy demand in India for several years or in the US for one year, while three flights a year would suffice for the world (Guardian, 21 October; Tribune, 23 October).

The main problem is extracting the He-3 as gas from the lunar soil. This requires heating the soil to a temperature of 800ÂșC. in furnaces or towers, using solar power. (Silicon for solar cells is also abundant on the Moon.) To collect enough gas for one load, it would be necessary to process 360,000 tonnes of soil. Nevertheless, technologically this is believed to be feasible; modern furnaces do actually process such huge quantities of material. Some specialists question whether it would be economically feasible to strip mine the Moon in this way.

Despite uncertainties, Indian strategists hope that the Chandrayaan-1 satellite will enable India to "stake a priority claim" on He-3 resources when lunar colonization begins (SkyNews). India's main rivals in this field appear to be the US, which has "re-energised" its Moon program and plans to establish a manned base by 2020, and also China.

Enough for everyone?

Given the abundant supply of He-3 relative to foreseeable demand, why should India need to compete with other space powers for preferential access? Surely there is more than enough for everyone.

Yes, but some locations on the Moon's surface are much better for mining than others. Finding the best locations is the main aim of satellite exploration.

First, the nature of the terrain will obviously matter when building bases and installations, whether operated by human workers or robots. It will be a great advantage to have water (ice) available nearby.

Second, it will be least expensive to work in areas where deposits are richest, where the smallest amount of soil has to be processed for each unit of gas extracted.

Third, reliance on solar power for soil heating (and other purposes) puts a premium on those parts of the lunar surface which are exposed to sunlight for most of the time.

These are also the warmest regions (by lunar standards). An example is the Shackleton Crater at the South Pole. India is especially interested in this area, and it is also here that the US wants to establish its base.

Militarisation of the Moon?

Certain places on the Moon are already thought of as "strategic locations." Thus, the topography of Malapert Mountain makes it an ideal spot for a radio relay station. Near the Shackleton Crater, it enhances the strategic value of the crater area.

Considerations of this kind will become more important in the event of the Moon's militarisation. This may happen as a result of competition for land and resources on the Moon itself. Or it may happen simply as an extension of existing military preparations: lunar stations may serve as reserve command centres for wars on Earth.

Even if international agreements are reached to constrain the process of militarisation and divide the lunar surface into zones belonging to the various space powers, military threats may arise from "dual use" technologies. Let us suppose, for instance, that instead of mining He-3 a space power decides to generate electricity on the Moon using solar cells and transmit it on microwave beams to a receiving station on Earth. The problem – under capitalism – is that these same beams may equally well be used as powerful weapons against Earth targets.

There will also be potential conflict between the space powers and other countries that for one reason or another are unable to compete in this sphere. Like the club of nuclear weapons states, the space powers may constitute themselves as an exclusive club and think up a rationale for joint efforts to thwart "space power proliferation," that is, to prevent other countries from acquiring space capabilities. The two clubs will, of course, largely overlap.

Space programs and socialism

It is absurd for humanity to venture into the cosmos while still divided into rival states and still dominated by primitive mechanisms like capital accumulation. Even the first people in space, almost half a century ago, could see that our planet is a single fragile system.

A world socialist community will have to decide which elements of existing space programmes to retain and which to freeze or abandon. National programmes that are retained will be merged into global programmes, eliminating the wasteful duplication inherent in the competition among space powers. Ambitious programs of purely scientific interest may be deferred pending the solution of more urgent problems.

Attitudes in a socialist world toward reliance on space activities may diverge quite widely. Some people may wish to enjoy the benefits of a complex high-consumption lifestyle made possible by He-3 fuel for nuclear fusion and other off-Earth technologies. Others may prefer to avoid the irreducible risks of a space-dependent strategy and solve Earth's problems here on Earth, at least to whatever extent this proves possible.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

[Excerpts from a talk at Cooper Union, N.Y.C. November 23, 1973. This was originally printed in the Western Socialist, No.1, 1974. The talk was delivered by World Socialist Party comrade Charles P. Davis]

Our subject this evening is “Socialism - Utopian and Scientific.” Most relevant in the examination of this subject is history. Not the history you have studied at school nor the history with which current literature is so preoccupied. Currently a history titled “History as Mirror” comparing the fourteenth century and its horrible conditions with the twentieth century that we know contributes very little to understanding with a statement such as: “Chivalry was to the landowners ideology, their politics, their system - what democracy is to us or Marxism is to the Communists.”

The speakers that I have listened to at Cooper Union with their declaimers of being apolitical and their talks of historical developments with a collection of “we,” “our,” and “us,” spoke as if the world were made of one homogeneous non-political mass of mankind rather than those who own little but the ability to work for wages. Such speakers never impressed me as understanding their subjects.

As to being apolitical, that is some kind of myth. Man has need for food, clothing and shelter and the manner in which these needs are obtained is political. Saying one is apolitical is like saying one has resigned from the human race.

The view of the course of history which seeks the ultimate cause and the great moving power of all important historic events in the economic development of society, in the changes in the mode of production and exchange; in the consequent divisions of society into distinct classes and in the struggles of these classes against one another is called “Historical Materialism.”

Rise of the Utopian Socialists

The reactions the industrial revolution with the end of the old institutions of serfdom and feudal agriculture brought about a group of “socialists” such as Saint-Simon, Francois Fourier, Robert Owen and Weitling.

Viewing the agonies, the poverty and misery of the workers in the shops, factories, mills and mines, these men interpreted it all as a matter for morality, justice, humanity, altruism and philanthropy instead of what it was - a matter of compulsion of a system of society called capitalism - a system based upon “free” wage workers and a master class which buys the only commodity these workers have to sell in order for them to live - their labor power. It, labor power, is bought for the purpose of creating commodities which will yield profit from the values over and above that of labor power.

Exploitation is not a personal matter, it is a social fact. The contradiction between socialized production and capitalist appropriation manifested itself then, as it does now, as an antagonism between proletariat and bourgeoisie.

So great was the struggle both in Europe and America that Robert Owen and Francois Fourier established communities, phalanxes, groups and cooperatives in this country with the blessings of many Americans including Albert Brisbane, the father of Arthur Brisbane, chief editor for William Randolph Hearst. Horace Greeley, like Albert Brisbane, supported Fourier until, when we saw the phalanxes established by Fourier falling apart, he ran successfully for Congress and introduced a measure for free land which was enacted.

One Heman Kriege, in the New York Volk Tribune, wrote: “According to the notions of the Fourierites, the working men in their phalanx would do from inclination what, in his present work, he does to keep himself from hunger. It would become, in a sense, his religion to make the capitalist rich. For that end, everything should be so arranged that the working man would be well fed, well housed, well dressed, perhaps even better than the slave in the south.” Arthur Schlessinger Jr. in “The Age of Jackson” says: “Fourierism in a way was a scheme to perpetuate capitalism by incorporating feudal satisfactions in the work and status into the new process of production.”

Now the Utopian Socialist idea that all of the inequities were due to the wickedness in the hearts of men was not a too unpleasant thought for the bourgeoisie. The American evangelists Moody and Sanky carried on a regular schedule of revival meetings in England. They were the precursors of Billy Sunday, Amie Semple McPherson, Billy Graham. And the Moody-Sanky success in England paved the way for the Salvation Army. In England, later, Thomas Carlyle - who is always quoted as the one who called Economics the Dismal Science - with others formed what was called Christian Socialism, a contradiction in terms as are such contemporary expressions as Marxist guerila, socialist state, and national socialism.

Historical Materialism

Historical materialism is the repudiation of religion and mythology and the recognition that the political, religious, philosophical and juridical institutions arise out of and correspond to definite stages of history. This was a consistent view of Marx and Engels from 1848, in their Communist Manifesto through 1892 with Engels’ preface to Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.

The reason the first draft of scientific socialism was called the “Communist Manifesto” was to avoid confusion with Utopian Socialism. It was sketchy but precise and as Engels wrote in a preface of the Communist Manifesto in 1888 after observing the changes that had taken place since 1848: “But then the Manifesto has become a historical document which we have no longer any right to alter.”

Here I must caution that the Communist Manifesto has nothing to do with what is now generally called Communist and which refers to Russia with its state capitalism, its K.G.B. - the counterpart of the F.B.I. - which the so-called Communists have used to their advantage in knocking off their dissidents. The “Manifesto” has no connection with those so-called Communists who, during the depression of the Thirties made it their business to disrupt peaceful meetings; the people who told workers that capitalism was collapsing, the ones who advocated every kind of reform from cheap bagels to better home relief; the ones who during World War II were staunch patriots after Hitler invaded Russia; who helped elect Jospeh McCarthy over LaFollette; who during the Johnson-Goldwater campaign suggested voting for L.B.J. as a “lesser of two evils.” The Communists would have us believe that what there is in Russia is “growing socialism” which will eventually become communism. And now we have a Chinese branch of that agony. Need I tell you how these organizations are peppered throughout with provocateurs to the detriment of the misguided individuals who have eyes but who see not?

Marx, in his preface to Critique of Political Economy discusses the Materialist Conception of History:

“In the social production which human beings carry on they enter into definite relations, which are determined independent of their will, productive relations which correspond to a definite evolutionary phase of the materialist forces of production. The totality of these productive relations forms the economic structure of society - the real basis upon which a legal and political superstructure develops with infinite forms of social consciousness. It is not the consciousness of human beings that determines their existence but conversely it is their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

The changes which human beings effect in the ways by which they satisfy their material needs are attended by changes in social forms, legal institutions, principles of state, scientific systems, moral and artistic ideas etc. But be it noted and it cannot be stressed too much that a scientific socialist never will agree that economic forces are the only forces that make history. What they have always contended is that among the factors of history, economic forces have the last word.

Revolt of the Godly

In Socialism: Utopian & Scientific Engels traces the role of the Catholic Church as the center of feudal Europe, the biggest feudal master, and shows how the class of merchant traders, financiers and manufacturers had to cast aside the Catholic Church in order to throw off the vestments of feudalism. Wycliffe, Knox, Martin Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Melancthon, notwhithstanding their claims, were the stirrings of the breakaway from the Church. One has only to compare the number of days of obligation in the Church then and now. Industrialism could never countenance 220 days of interruption of the profit system. Martin Luther cast his lot with the aristocracy and this godly man, at the time of the Peasant Wars, suggested that the peasants be boiled in oil. As for Calvin, the work ethic and predestination was the answer to the problem of slave and master.

Engels shows how the rising capitalist class of England compromised with the feudal aristrocracy in 1689 and had to struggle again for political supremacy in 1832 - the Bill of Franchise Reform.

The 1832 act which had excluded workers from the franchise lead to the Chartist Movement and the publication of the Peoples’ Charter of 1838 - “The first working men’s party of modern times.” (Engels)

To the Utopian Socialist, history was of no consequence - humanity had to be saved. As Engels put it, however, we do not belittle the efforts of St. Simon, Fourier and Robert Owen. We point out, rather, that they proclaimed not the emancipation of the working class that produces the wealth but some vague idea of emancipating humanity. A benevolent ruling class or society of pure reason and justice, independent of time and place, they believed could arise in any stage of history.

To the Scientific Socialists socialism derives from history and has its roots in the development of industry and technology and social consciousness. Only a conscious working class majority can establish socialism but they will do so because humans always solve social problems when the conditions or means for their solution are at hand.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Materialist Conception of History

Down through the ages there have been various interpretations of history. For example, there are the theories which see in history the working out and realization of some sort of divine plan - like Hegel’s philosophy of history, which sees the whole historical development of society as the realization stage by stage of the so-called Absolute Idea. Again, there are the various theories which see history as moving through “cycles,” every civilization passing by some inescapable necessity through the cycle of rise, plentitude of power and decline - as in Spengler’s Decline of the West or Toynbee’s Studies in History. These are idealist theories and socialists are opposed to them. The idealism of such theories lies in the fact that they see the laws of development of society as a “fate” imposed upon society from outside, so that men and women are mere instruments of fate, the tools of external necessity. If such theories are accepted, then we are driven to fatalism. If what takes place is in the hands of God, or is decreed by fate, or follows by some iron necessity - it makes little difference in practice which you say - then it follows there is little we can do to determine our own destinies for ourselves.

Until the advent of Marx the various interpretations of history might be listed under five headings - religious, political, hero, ideas, and war. The elaborations found under these headings make interesting reading but they all contain serious shortcomings. The war or military interpretation of history, for instance, fails to recognize that war, a phenomenon that has been present in all phases of human development, is a result rather than a cause of events. With the coming of Marx and his theory of the materialist conception of history, history took on new meaning - it became rooted in the material conditions of life.

This interpretation of history holds that in any given epoch the economic relations of society, the means whereby men and women provide for their sustenance, produce, exchange, and distribute the things they regard as necessary for the satisfaction of their needs, exert a preponderating influence in shaping the progress of society and in molding political, social, intellectual, and ethical relationships. In his Charles Darwin and Karl Marx, Edward Aveling, Marx’s son-in-law defines this theory:

“The materialist conception of history is that the chief, the fundamental factor in the development of any nation or any society, is the economic factor - that is, the way in which the nation, or the society, produces, produces and exchanges its commodities…

“Now, whilst it (the economic factor) appears to be the fundamental one, there are others developed from it and reflexes of it, that also play their parts, acting and reacting upon their parent, the economic factor, and one another. The art, the science, the literature, the religion, the legal and juridicial formulae of a country, although they all spring directly from economic conditions of the country, have to be reckoned with.”

The most complete and most significant statement of the main elements of the materialist conception of history are formulated in Marx’s Preface to the Critique of Political Economy. There one learns that the subject matter of history is man himself, his economic and social conditions and not his ideas. The relations between men’s material conditions of life and their ideas are described in this general fashion by Marx: it is not the consciousness of men which determines their existence, but, on the contrary, it is their social existence which determines their consciousness. William Ebenstein in his Today’s Isms illustrates this concept:

“In a nomadic society… horses might be considered the principal means of acquiring and accumulating wealth. From Marx’s viewpoint, this foundation of nomadic life is the clue to its superstructure of law, government, and dominant ideas. Thus, Marx would say that those who are the owners of the greatest number of horses in such a nomadic society would also be the political cheiftans who make and interpret the law; they are also likely to receive the highest response and deference from the tribe’s members who own no horses. In the realm of ideas, the predominant social and cultural concepts would reflect the dominant economic position of the owners and horses. Even in religion the impact would not be missing. God might, for instance, be represented in the image of a swift and powerful rider, and the concept of divine justice and rule would be, in a sence, an extension and magnification of human justice as determined by the horse-owning chiefs.”

Even as the above horse-owning class determined the political, social, legal, and cultural institutions in its society, so, too, do we find, on looking back, that the landowners in a settled, agricultural society set its society’s values. Today in our industrial society the owners of the means of production are in the saddle and have been for the last two hundred years. No matter the formal and legal facades, this owning class, the capitalist class, rules contemporary society. This class conceives that “the ultimate purpose of the law, education, the press, and artistic and literary creation is to maintain an ideology that is embued with the sanctity and justice of capitalist property ownership.”

The misrepresentations and distortions of Marx’s writings are legion. They perhaps are paralleled only by the slanders and vilifications on Marx’s person. For instance, critics love to reproach Marx that the materialist conception of history disregards the influence of non-economic factors. This is not so. There is nothing in Marx’s theory to indicate such an assertion, though it is true that he failed sufficiently to safeguard himself against this charge, Engels repeatedly acknowledged that many interacting forces give rise to an historic event. Again, some critics would have one believe that Marx’s “materialism” is but a depiction of mans wish for monetary gain and comfort, of his desire for material goods, and this charge is sometimes coupled with the distortion that Marx was an advocate of the barracks, that is, the giving up of ones individuality and entrusting oneself to an all-powerful state bureaucracy. Again not so. Relative to this Erich Fromm writes in Marx’s Concept of Man:

This “description… fits almost exactly the reality of present-day Western capitalist society. The majority of people are motivated by a wish for greater material gain, for comfort and gadgets, and this wish is restricted only by the desire for security and the avoidance of risks. They are increasingly satisfied with a life regulated and manipulated, both in the sphere of production and of consumption, by the state and the big corporations and their respective bureaucracies; they have reached a degree of conformity which has wiped out individuality to a remarkable extent. They are, to use Marx’s term, impotent ‘commodity men’ serving virile machines. The very picture of mid-twentieth century capitalism is hardly distinguishable from the caricature of Marxist socialism as drawn by its opponents.”

The materialist conception of history is not only a theory about how to interpret history, but also a theory about how to make history. This theory was arrived at by Marx by applying the materialist world outlook to the solution of social problems. And in making this application materialism was no longer just a theory aimed at interpreting the world, of building a society free of the exploitation of man by man.

From our magazine The Western Socialist, Fall 1979

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

God and the Market

Commenting on the current world financial crisis former 1968 student leader and now a Green MEP, Daniel Cohn Bendit, said that “the belief that the market is god is over” (Guardian, 17 September). Someone who should know more about God, the Archbishop of Canterbury, hopes this is so as he thinks that the Market has become a rival to his god.

In an article in the Spectator (26 September) Dr Rowan Williams in effect accused “market fundamentalists” of breaking the First Commandment – “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. He even called in Marx to back up this charge of idol worship:

“Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves; he was right about that, if about little else. And ascribing independent reality to what you have in fact made yourself is a perfect definition of what the Jewish and Christian Scriptures call idolatry.”

Dr Williams is said to be a learned man and he is right: Marx did see capital as the product of human labour which had come to dominate those who produced it (except that he saw this as applying to capitalism in general not just to “unbridled capitalism”).

This was in fact his whole “critique of political economy” (the subtitle of Capital), that the economic laws of capitalism were not the natural laws that Adam Smith, David Ricardo, the Rev Thomas Malthus, John Stuart Mill and the others thought but forces that came into operation only because society was organised in a particular way. Market forces were the result of human activity which had escaped from human control and which had come to dominate them as if they were a natural force.

Dr Williams may also be aware that here Marx was applying to economics the theory that Ludwig Feuerbach had applied to religion in his 1841 The Essence of Christianity. Feuerbach argued that, far from God making man in his own image, it was the other way round. Humans made God in their image and attributed to him the powers which they collectively possessed, and then bowed down and worshipped this figment of their imagination. If humans were to realise this and take their own destiny in hand there would be no need for God or religion. So, according to Feuerbach, the Archbishop’s god was also an idol.

The Archbishop was getting a dig at Marx in when he said he said he was right about this “if about little else”. But Marx once made a harsh comment about the Church of England, writing in the Preface to the first edition of Capital, that it would “more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on 1/39 of its income”.

It is interesting to speculate what the one article it would keep might be. At one time it would have been obvious – Article 38 that “the riches and goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast . . .” If he keeps on reading Marx maybe the Archbishop might be prepared to abandon this one too.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Chinese Bubble Bursts

China's manufacturing contracted by the most on record last month as the global financial crisis cut demand for exports, a second survey showed. A government-backed survey released on Nov. 1 also showed a record contraction, adding to concern that the world's fastest- growing economy may slump.

With export orders falling because of the global slowdown and rising raw material and labor costs, more than 68,000 small companies nationwide collapsed in the first half of 2008 and about 2.5 million jobs in the Pearl River Delta region may be lost by the end of the year, according to government and industry estimates.

As the economy has soured, dissatisfaction has grown: Since mid-October, there have been dozens of labor protests involving thousands of workers at major exporters, including several publicly listed companies. China needs to grow in order to keep generating enough factory jobs to maintain stability in the labor market, as millions of peasants continue to pour into Chinese cities in search of work.In Jiangsu province, the government extended unemployment benefits to migrant workers laid off from ailing factories; these workers had previously been shut out of public services because they don't have residency cards.

The Guangdong provincial government in the south is scrambling to set up a special fund to compensate laid-off workers in order to "protect against some of the financial and social problems caused by such closures."

In the eastern city of Wujiang, nearly 1,000 workers from bankrupt Chunyu Textile Co. received four months' salary on Oct. 27 after they swarmed the area's four main roads to draw attention to their cause. After more than 1,000 workers for home appliance maker BEP International Holdings gathered outside the factory to protest, district officials gave them $44 each late last month. The employees were also allowed to continue living in the defunct factory's dormitories for free. The same week, the government offered three months' back pay to the 900 workers at Gangsheng, an electronics supplier, after they staged a protest at a shop near their factory.

In the neighboring city of Dongguan, the local government handed out about $3.5 million on Oct. 21 to the employees of Smart Union — which sold its toys to Mattel, Disney and Hasbro — after the 7,000 workers staged a strike.Employees became nervous when the owners slipped three months behind on salary payments. The workers occupied the factory and the surrounding streets until government officials promised them they would be paid.

China's most revered companies, whose growth once seemed limitless, have reported surprising losses in the past few days. Air China , the nation's biggest international carrier, posted its first loss in seven quarters because of declining passenger numbers and wrong-way bets on fuel prices. Bank of China, the nation's largest foreign-exchange lender, said that as credit-market losses went up, its profit growth went down to its slowest in two years.

China's leaders have made a variety of moves to try to stabilize the economy — three interest rate cuts in six weeks, new export tax rebates, reduced costs for home buyers, and billions spent on infrastructure.

"…What the government fears most is workers making trouble…" Hu said. "….no one wants to hire you because they know about the blockade and now we have a bad reputation…" Jia said.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Is capitalism crumbling?

Stephen Muchiri, head of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation, stated recently that: “The amount of money used for the bailouts in the U.S. and Europe — people here are saying that money is enough to feed the poor in Africa for the next three years.” This estimate seems to be rather conservative as, according to this month’s Socialist Standard Editorial, “The sums of money hastily committed to increase banks’ liquidity and stabilise the sector would – if used to meet real human needs - ensure not one person need die of hunger for the next 23 years.”

Capitalism has gotten bad press in the last few months. Countless commentators have given more than a passing consideration to the question, will capitalism collapse? Whilst this hopeful question could be expected to emanate from excitable journalists, and from the rump of what remains of the left-wing throughout the world, it should be noted that the likes of Bill Gates and Nicolas Sarkozy have been asking similar questions.

The real challenge to capitalism however is not so much a challenge to its on-going operation – it will carry on in some shape or form regardless. The last few months are after all nothing other than a “market correction”, albeit a pretty big and widespread one. Rather, the challenge to capitalism is one that is of more interest to world socialists.

For us worthwhile social change cannot come about blindly in knee-jerk reaction to events, nor in the role of passive bystanders as events unfold around us. What has become crystal clear over the last few weeks is the extent to which the experts of capitalism, the self-styled “Masters of the Universe” were flying by the seat of their silk monogrammed pants, with little idea what they were actually buying and selling.

Genuine social change will require more than just restricting executives’ bonuses, or trying to improve regulation of the financial services sector, as many are calling for. Even when it is working right, even when it is booming, the market system fails miserably to do the one thing it claims as its unique selling point. Far from efficiently sending market signals between supply and demand, between producer and consumer, the market system sends confused, unreliable and skewed information.

And of course there are some areas of demand that the economic system is just not interested in even supplying – because of the low profit returns available. World hunger is one example illustrating how the market operates on the basis of profit, not human need. There can surely be few clearer signs of the priorities of capitalism than the contrast between the painfully slow progress made to address world hunger over the last few decades, and the haste with which politicians around the world have responded to the banking crisis. The sums of money hastily committed to increase banks’ liquidity and stabilise the sector would – if used to meet real human needs - ensure not one person need die of hunger for the next 23 years.

Capitalism won’t collapse of its own accord. But for many millions it has never functioned to start with. Instead the market system must be dismantled intellectually, ideologically and democratically. A genuine alternative society must be agreed before capitalism can start to be dismantled in reality, with alternative mechanisms emerging to replace both the market and the state.

If we want to get rid of capitalism we will need to work at it. That’s why we exist: to try and help as one small part of that massive process. If you want to help out in that process – if you want to become humanity to become a “master” of its universe – then please make contact, and the sooner we may succeed.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I’m Prepared To Give My Life For This Or Any Country

[Satire from ONN]

As a true patriot, I would gladly die in battle defending my homeland. I love my country more than my own life. But I would also be more than willing to give my last breath in the name of, say, Mexico, Panama, Japan, or the Czech Republic. The most honorable thing a man can do is lay down his life for his country. Or another country. The important thing is that it’s a country.

Like those heroes who spilled their blood fighting for independence against the British Empire, I, too, would forfeit everything to win for my countrymen the right to be governed by politicians in our own capital instead of in a capital located further away. Nothing is more profound or more sacred than to die for one’s country, an adjacent country, or some other, foreign country.

The truth is, there are a lot of countries, each of which is the most noble cause possible to die for. I only regret that I have but one life to lose for but one country.

I would not hesitate to give my life for or against any other noble nation. Come to think of it, I would even die for a neutral third party caught in the crossfire during a heroic peacekeeping effort, just so long as my death would be in some way related to a country of some kind. That’s how committed I am to the concept of nationalism.

The bottom line is that the current boundaries of a nation are worth protecting at all costs. Otherwise, what would so many brave and patriotic souls have lost their lives for?

I was lucky enough to be born in one of the 200 greatest countries in the world, and I promised myself long ago that I would never forget it. I can only hope to someday have the privilege of protecting this great land against whomever may seek to do it harm. Or to defend some other country against whomever may seek to do it harm. And vice versa.

Ideally, I’d like to die for a country that was at least in the Western hemisphere but it’d be just as heroic to expire bravely on the end of a pointed stick deep in the jungles of Africa. My wife would be widowed and my children orphaned, but they would take solace in the knowledge that I had given my life to a cause that the people of some nation believed in.

I only ask that I be given a soldier’s funeral so that I may be buried holding the flag or flags of wherever it was I was fighting for.

There comes a time when all of us, no matter who we are, heed the call to the battlefield. It is a call we cannot and should not ignore, no matter where it is coming from. And if I must die, in the service of this or that country, I only hope I can at least take as many of the enemy with me as possible before I fall and breathe my last. Unless of course, they’re also fighting for a country. In which case, their deaths, at my hands, will have been honorable—because they, like me, would have died for a country.

Without nationalism, our deaths in the countless wars we constantly wage to defend our own nations against others defending their own nations against us would seem arbitrary, almost meaningless. But as long as we have a higher purpose—the love of whatever country we happen to be fighting for—we will always know we did not lose our lives in vain.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Portland - Marxian Economics for Workers

Title: Portland - Marxian Economics for Workers

Location: Portland, OR

Description: WSP member FN Brill will present a workshop on .."Marxian Economics for Workers.." at the Portland Radical Bookfair. Liberty Hall, 311 N Ivy, Portland, OR

Start Time: 12:00

Date: 12-6-2008

End Time: 17:00

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Economic Roots of WW2

Chopping up history is a common method of distorting it and preventing anything being learned from it. Chopped-up history comes to us as a series of largely self-contained, unconnected and accidental events which were crucially influenced by the personalities of the leaders of the time. The implication is that there is no overall pattern in what happens in the world, that things would have been different had other people been in charge or if certain events had not coincided. It follows from this that there is no need to make any fundamental changes in society because a bad historical accident at one time can be redressed by a good one at another time.

Mad Dictators versus The Democracies?

The popular account of the last world war goes something like this. After 1918 the victorious Allies made two big mistakes. Firstly, they did not ensure that Germany had been properly finished off as a military power. Secondly, they imposed the Versailles Treaty, a settlement so stringent as to cause a lingering resentment among the German people which was too easily exploited by Hitler, an unusually mad dictator whose consuming ambition was to lead Germany into a conquest of the entire world. Hitler was in league with Mussolini, another mad dictator who was also comical because his belligerent strutting and posturing were a facade behind which the Italian people were disinclined to go to war. His other ally —Japan — was a different matter, for the people there were tradition-bound into a disciplined savagery. These three countries regarded the persecution and murder of human beings as necessary and progressive and they were intent on extending their rule over the entire world. Other countries — Britain, France and America — were democracies. Their leaders were not dictators, they allowed free speech and free association and they treated their people in a humane way. The democracies could not stand aside and allow the dictatorships to take over the world and so, after a few years delay caused by their natural inability to grasp the enormity of Hitler's madness and their laudable reluctance to plunge the world into hostilities, they eventually had no choice out to go to war. After six years of bloodshed which cost at least 15 million dead the dictatorships were beaten, the world recovered from some very nasty historical accidents and all was well.
One of the most obvious flaws in this version is the fact that on the side supposedly fighting for democracy was one of the world's most fearsome dictatorships When Stalin's Russia was forced into the war on the Allied side it had become enduringly notorious for its iron repression of its people, for its ruthless policy of mass murder and for the brutal and cynical way in which Stalin disposed of any opposition among the leadership — normally by killing them off. The fact that "communist" Russia was supposed to be a sworn enemy of Nazi Germany did not stop the two countries, in a typical example of the dirty game called diplomacy, signing just before the war began, a pact of non-aggression guided, they said, "…by the desire to strengthen the cause of peace between the USSR and Germany…" The pact — which, although it was supposed to last for ten years, did not stop Germany attacking Russia in June 1941 — also carved up part of Eastern Europe: Lithuania. Poland, Bessarabia. Russia was not the only dictatorship fighting on the side of "freedom". Poland and Greece could hardly be described as democracies and they too were in the Allied camp.

Meanwhile, neither the "democracies" nor the dictatorships were completely united. Mussolini's government was alarmed by Germany's expansion, in particular the occupation of Czechoslovakia which they saw as undermining their interests in Central and South East Europe. They did consider developing closer ties with Britain and France but instead asserted that the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean were Italian spheres of influence and annexed Albania. The French were mistrustful of British policy which, as the pressure from Germany mounted, did not rule out a settlement through offering Germany some colonies, which the French saw as a potential threat to their interests in the Middle East.

The British Empire

More important —more influential — was the antagonism between American and British interests. One of the reasons for the opposition in America to that country joining the war was the well-founded suspicion that American power would be used to protect British possessions and so shore up the British Empire, which with its system of Imperial Preference hampered American industry's exports to valuable markets and its access to vital raw materials. The "aid" which flowed from America to Britain was thickly festooned with strings. In August 1940 the "gift" of 50 US destroyers (which were in any case well past their prime as death-dealing machines) was conditional on American occupation of 8 bases on British territory, from Newfoundland to what was then British Guiana. Purchases of American war equipment were to be paid for by the liquidation of overseas assets and lend-lease was agreed to only on the condition that the British ruling class had exhausted all other ability to pay. In August 1941 the Atlantic Charter was exultantly publicised as a declaration of faith in the war for democracy and the well-being of the human race. In reality it was an undertaking to ensure self-determination and free trade in the post-war world — which effectively meant the end of Imperial Preference.

So the objectives of the war were not as chivalrous and humane as its supporters would have us believe. Of course it is true that Nazi Germany was a vicious dictatorship where all opposition was ruthlessly stamped out and where millions of people were systematically killed simply because they were Jews or gypsies or homosexuals or handicapped. And of course the Allied victory did mean the end of the extermination camps — at any rate in Germany, for genocide, atrocities and mass political murders did not end in 1945. But these were not the objects of the war, except to those who chop up history. The war came as an episode in an established and continuing system of international relations which were an inevitable result of the social system we live under — of capitalism.

Germany's defeat in the First World War, the Russian revolution and America's withdrawal from the post-war settlements left Britain and France dominant, with the onus to strike a balance between the elite powers. As an outcome of the war these two states, already possessing huge empires, also absorbed former German and Turkish colonies so that Great Britain controlled a quarter of the world and, with France, a third of it. "We have got most of the world already, or the best parts of it" was how it was described in 1934 by the First Sea Lord. The fact that the advantages of empire were largely illusory for the ruling class — and wholly illusory for the working class, who were nevertheless so proud and ready to die for their masters wealth and possessions — did not prevent imperialism being seen as vital to everyone's interests. The "have-not" states — Germany. Japan and Italy — demanded to be let into the power system, to expand to be a part of the balance. "As a result of restrictions our economic situation is such that we can only hold out for a few years… There is nothing else for it, we have to act", said Hitler in August 1939.

These demands were given an emphatic political voice, and a great deal of energy, by the Nazis in Germany and the Fascists in Italy. In many ways the policies of both were, to put it mildly, bizarre; they not only hampered the full development of each state's power but also gave the Allies, when the war came, a brilliant propaganda theme which they worked for all it was worth. Telling us all about the racism of Nazi Germany, they forgot troublesome facts like the collusion and encouragement the Nazis had received from so many respected and bellicose British politicians and the persecution of blacks in America.

German Industry and Commerce

he Nazis were not the first post-war German government to work for the overturn of the Versailles Treaty and the re-establishment of Germany as a major European power. These policies had also been expounded by the politicians of the Weimar Republic and the implications were the same for them as they were for the Nazis — the annexing of Austria, perhaps also of Czechoslovakia and the extension of Germany's sphere of influence into eastern Europe and the Balkans. Behind the policy stood German commerce and industry with their insistent need to throw off the shackles of the post-war settlements and to expand. When Nazi Germany moved militarily the country's commercial and industrial interests eagerly followed the victorious armies. German banks quickly took over their competitors in Austria and Czechoslovakia and the industrial combine IG Farben did the same to its rivals in those countries so that it became the dominant chemical concern in South East Europe.

Although the Versailles Treaty was supposed to have sorted out the world's problems (for what else were those millions of workers killed in the first world war?) the stresses and crises which followed in peacetime produced a clutch of other treaties, each attempting to deal with a separate point of tension. But the diplomatic edifice erected in the 1920s was severely damaged by the world economic collapse. Collective action became distinctly unfashionable as each country scrambled to protect the wealth and the standing of its ruling class. Tariff barriers went up and Britain abandoned free trade in favour of imperial preference. The industrial powers suffered massive unemployment, with up to a third of their workforces being idle. The despair and disillusionment with parliamentary democracy which this caused undoubtedly helped the Nazis rise to power as they could blame the economic collapse on alleged corruption and bungling of tne Weimar republic and assert that it would not have happened in a racially pure, virile and disciplined Nazi dictatorship.

In 1931. in response to the slump, Britain went off the gold Standard — that is, declared that the pound was no longer convertible into gold. As a result a number of ad hoc arrangements for international payments emerged with the "outsider" powers such as Germany and Japan entering into bilateral trading deals. This effectively divided the world into two antagonistic blocs — the gold—possessing states and those now reliant on barter. The German ruling class fought their side of the conflict by dumping exports, importing through bulk buying, currency controls and the like. The British government fought back with export guarantees and in 1938 buying up the entire wheat crop of Rumania in an effort to prevent that country being absorbed into Germany's sphere of influence. In general the Germans made the running in this race and British and French capital became more and more excluded from eastern Europe.

For the British and French capitalists the German threat to Poland was the sticking point, beyond which there could be no further attempts at diplomatic appeasement or economic warfare. The invasion of Poland left the Allies with no choice but to try by military means to force Germany back into "normal" trading relationships. Behind all the talk about a war to defeat dictatorships and to liberate Europe from the Nazi thrall the real war aim of the Allies was to restore the financial and trading arrangements which benefitted their ruling classes. In July 1944, while some of the war's fiercest battles were being fought, the bloodless battle of Bretton Woods settled a lot about the economy of the post-war world The Conference set up the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as the main instruments of a new international payments system based on currencies convertible at fixed rates into gold and, as the Daily Express complained for years afterwards, was another large nail in the coffin of Imperial Preference.

Far from being an historical aberration the Second World War was a predictable episode in capitalism; it was normal to a social system which throws up rivalry and conflict all the time. Those who chop up history, treating the war as if it were a separate incident, unique because of the personalities of the leaders at the time — lunatic Hitler, conceited Mussolini, and Chamberlain — spread confusion and misunderstanding. To understand why that war happened is to understand a lot about society today, and about why it operates as it does. This is a matter of great urgency, if we are to organise the world so that war is abolished. After all, those millions who were killed in the war were supposed to have given their lives to make the world safe for peace yet look at what has happened since 1945…

Ivan. Socialist Standard. September 1989