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Socialist Standard April 2009 1

April 09 bdh.indd 1 23/3/09 12:24:38

april 2009
socialist standard
website: www.worldsocialism.org

12 24

contents 15

10 Banks, who needs them? 3 Editorial

What is socialism?
If there was production directly for use we wouldn’t need banks.
4 Pathfinders
12 What is to be done?
As capitalism loses some of its legitimacy, what should those who want 5 Letters
to get rid of capitalism be doing?
6 Material World
14 Northern Ireland: a return to violence? The South China Sea
Violence will not make people into socialists.
7 Cartoon
The Irate Itinerant
15 Capitalism’s reserve army of labour
Full employment is not the normal state of capitalism. 8 Pieces Together

8 Contact Details
17 Food: commodity or need?
Enough calories are already produced in the world today to avoid
anyone having to starve. It’s just that millions can’t afford to buy the food 9 Cooking the Books 1
Saved by the slump?
containing them.
18 Socialism: an open source society 16 Cooking the Books 2
A socialist describes his personal experience of open source software - Capitalism is working
and its socialist implications.
20 Reviews
The Credit Crunch; A Good
Childhood; Selling Your Father’s
Bones; Rank
21 Meetings

22 50 Years Ago
Subscription Orders The Socialist Party of More trouble in Africa
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Rates will be on Saturday 4 April at the address 23 Greasy Pole
One year subscription (normal rate) £15 below. Correspondence should be sent to The rise and rise of Harperson
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Great Britain’. e-mail: spgb@worldsocialism.org 24 Free Lunch

2 Socialist Standard April 2009

April 09 bdh.indd 2 23/3/09 12:24:39

Introducing Editorial
The Socialist Party What is socialism?
The Socialist Party is like no other This may come as a surprise to regular World socialists argue – and have done
political party in Britain. It is made up readers of the Socialist Standard, but consistently for over 100 years – that
of people who have joined together apparently “we are all socialists now”. nationalisation of sectors of the economy
because we want to get rid of the profit A claim made (incorrectly) on various (e.g. manufacturing, mining, oil and gas
system and establish real socialism. Our occasions during the last century has extraction, power distribution, transport),
aim is to persuade others to become resurfaced. or “socialisation” as its termed in the US,
socialist and act for themselves, On both sides of the Atlantic, is a measure used to differing degrees by
organising democratically and without western-style capitalism has supposedly every capitalist economy in the world.
leaders, to bring about the kind of succumbed to a socialism of sorts. UK Indeed, far from somehow being in
society that we are advocating in this Prime Minister Gordon Brown is a socialist some sort of contradiction with capitalism,
journal. We are solely concerned with again according to some in the media, and government ownership is in reality an
building a movement of socialists for not only the new US President Obama, but absolutely essential aspect of capitalism in
socialism. We are not a reformist party also some of the final regulatory activities all regions around the world. Some parts
with a programme of policies to patch of the Bush administration have been of the economy are simply too central,
up capitalism. deemed in some quarters as “socialist”. too important to all the other parts of the
We use every possible opportunity The Socialist Standard and the economy, for their survival to be left to
to make new socialists. We publish World Socialist Movement have however chance or the vagaries of the market.
pamphlets and books, as well as CDs, decided not to shut up shop in triumph For example, during the First World
DVDs and various other informative at this speedy success. This use of the War, many pubs located close to munitions
material. We also give talks and take part term socialism to describe a few mild factories were nationalised. This wasn’t
in debates; attend rallies, meetings and amendments to capitalism is of course an example of early government concern
demos; run educational conferences; just lazy thinking and sloppy journalism. with the binge-drinking menace that is
host internet discussion forums, make It is also partially the legacy of a century currently preoccupying politicians, but
films presenting our ideas, and contest of supposed revolutionaries and radicals was undertaken in order to enable the
elections when practical. Socialist – from V I Lenin to K Livingston – who watering-down of the beer and other
literature is available in Arabic, Bengali, have viewed state control of productive means of controlling consumption by
Dutch, Esperanto, French, German, resources as somehow a part of a genuine workers in these factories, thereby
Italian, Polish, Spanish, Swedish and revolutionary project, and who have in minimising the risks of accidents with
Turkish as well as English. the process served to confuse the case serious consequences for this critical
The more of you who join the Socialist for socialism as a genuine alternative to industry in time of war. Left to its own
Party the more we will be able to get capitalism. devices, the market system would bite
our ideas across, the more experiences The “socialism” being referred to off its own (invisible) hand and happily
we will be able to draw on and greater relates then, to nothing more than the fact unleash drunk workers into explosives
will be the new ideas for building the that governments in North America and factories.
movement which you will be able to Europe have bailed out the banks and are For world socialists, socialism means
bring us. in the process of doing the same for the a moneyless, wageless, classless and
The Socialist Party is an organisation car industry and various other struggling stateless society. Socialism is not just
of equals. There is no leader and there sectors of the economy. a “nice idea”, nor a change of name. It
are no followers. So, if you are going This attempt to position socialism as doesn’t refer to tinkering on the margins
to join we want you to be sure that you a mere version of capitalism – rather than of the profit motive, but – in contrast
agree fully with what we stand for and a fundamental alternative to it – defuses to the phoney ideological debate over
that we are satisfied that you understand it. This is why we strongly argue that “nationalisation” – represents a genuine
the case for socialism. these terms should be used accurately. alternative to capitalism.

Socialist Standard April 2009 3

April 09 bdh.indd 3 23/3/09 12:24:39

How scientific
Samira Jassim, aka ‘the Mother of Believers’, who tells us how
she recruited 80 female Iraqi suicide-bombers. Her clever trick
was to have the women raped by her pious and devout male
assistants and then tell the victims they would never get into

are scientists?
heaven unless they committed a ‘purifying act’ to expunge their
‘shame’. What this shows is not only the folly of ignorant belief
and the despicable manipulation that ‘gurus’ can exercise, but
also that these ‘gurus’ don’t believe this hokum themselves. It
What is Andrew Marr, a well-known political commentator, has often been observed that the higher one goes in any religious
doing presenting a BBC2 science programme about Darwin’s organisation, the less belief there is.
‘dangerous idea’? Evidently, having used up their stock of Perhaps, at bottom, religious people don’t really believe, but
one biologist the previous month when they trundled David they force themselves to pretend to. There are signs that this
Attenborough out of retirement, the BBC are now reduced to is the case. One piece of evidence was the huge outpouring of
pilfering from the politics office. The first thing our ex-Presbyterian obviously genuine grief among Catholics when the last pope
Andy does in his new role of science correspondent is issue shuffled off his mortal coil. Since, according to doctrine, he had
a dire warning that we shouldn’t treat Darwin as a deity or gone off to sit on the right hand of God and enjoy perfect bliss,
Darwinism as a religion (The Danger of Worshipping Darwin, one might have expected them to celebrate. But they don’t, and
BBC Online, 5 March). in fact new research suggests they fight against death harder
Socialists have heard this sort of criticism before, from people than non-believers, demanding every treatment and medication
who equate any system of organised thought with religion, in in the book, even when prolonging the agony actually increases
wilful disregard of the difference between organised thought and their misery (Pious ‘fight death the hardest’, BBC Online, 17
organised fantasy. Scientists do have their heroes, but they don’t March). Again, this is the opposite of what you’d expect if religion
worship them as infallible gurus because it is recognised that was giving these people any real comfort. It seems that the Pope
argument from authority is inferior to argument from evidence. and his ilk aren’t very keen to check out themselves, although
Socialists take the same view of Marx and other revolutionary they’re often happy enough to speed other people on their way,
thinkers. through murder or murderously bad advice.
It’s a pity Marr couldn’t direct his uncalled-for advice where So how does Andrew Marr have the effrontery to equate
it might do some good – at real rather than imaginary religious science with religion? It seems utterly daft. But does that mean
folly. Someone who does think he’s an infallible guru has just science is a noble endeavour and a paragon of value-free
lately been going round Africa telling the locals that wearing rationality?
condoms will make their AIDS problem worse, not One man who doesn’t think so is the physicist Lee Smolin.
better (BBC Online, 18 March). Yes folks, the He is scathing about the ‘sociology’ of the science community,
Pope pulls another blinder, advocating ‘fidelity which he invokes to explain why physics has languished for the
and abstinence’, straight after criticising his own last thirty years in the doldrums of unverifiable string theory rather
US division for last year’s record-busting 800 than investigating any more promising avenues of thought: ‘Good
sex-abuse cases, which cost the Catholic Church ideas are not taken seriously enough when they come from
$436m in 2008 (BBC Online, 14 March). Mind people of low status in the academic world; conversely, the ideas
you, this is the guru who told us recently of high-status people are often taken too seriously’ (The Trouble
that Darwinian evolution is consistent With Physics, Allen Lane, 2006). For Smolin, the old-boy culture
with the book of Genesis. of risk-averse conservatism is so strong that it has brought
Socialists are opposed to all physics to a crisis where one must ask fundamental questions
religious superstitions but don’t often about what science is.
trouble to condemn them because It is a shame that Smolin, following Popper, carelessly
their advocates seem to do that brackets ‘Marxism’ with witchcraft and Intelligent Design. He
better themselves. In Tanzania, the would be surprised to know that socialist theory (rather than the
latest get-rich-quick scheme state-capitalist parodies of North Korea etc that he has in mind)
is to round up albino humans, actually accords very well with the principles of scientific enquiry
murder them, cut them up, and he himself sets out, and that socialists could help to contextualise
sell their body parts as magic the problems besetting physics.
potions promising to make the Smolin points out that there are more scientists working today
owner wealthy. Meanwhile than in the whole history of science, however he doesn’t consider
in South Africa there is an that many of them are doing things which are utterly useless or
epidemic of what is called downright destructive because science, like any industry, has
‘corrective rape’, where to operate within the priorities and limitations dictated by the
lesbian women are gang- capitalist system. He recognises that the scientific method suffers
raped in order to make because science is organised hierarchically, but doesn’t see
them ‘girls’ again. The that the same criticism can be applied to all branches of human
fact that the women are activity. He demands democratisation and diversity in physics
often murdered afterwards as if physics alone is the problem and these things are already
suggests the rapists are established in other fields.
not too interested in the What sets science apart from religion is not that it works
‘corrective’ aspect of it all. perfectly, but that it has the capability to be self-correcting. This
Unless they’re thinking of is also the crucial distinction between capitalism, which is unable
the afterlife. to correct its own suicidal blunders because it is in thrall to
Someone else uncontrollable economic laws serving a powerful elite, and non-
keen to send market, non-hierarchical socialism, which has no such agenda
women to and which can therefore collectively determine the best course of
Darwin’s statue at the an early action based on the available evidence.
Natural History Museum afterlife is
- a bit too worshipful?
44 Socialist Standard April 2009

April 09 bdh.indd 4 23/3/09 12:24:40

The money system
only on prescription we would be Rainforests are cleared to make
healthier. way for moneymaking industries.
Janet Surman mentioned a few of Farming, cattle raising etc. Despite
Dear Editors the inefficiencies and wastes of the the efforts of the likes of Oxfam and
The letter by Ken Scragg and the money system, its inequalities and Greenpeace, etc the world situation
articles by Janet Surman in your use of power. Its endless complexities is worse now than ever. People in the
issues of December 2008 and frustrate all human endeavour. Third World starve not because there
January 2009 herald a further No doubt she could have gone on isn’t enough food but because they
evolution for homo sapiens. and on for the simple reason that are too poor to buy it. Think of that.
We are a primitive lot. Every few nothing can be done with money that The alternative is a cooperative
decades the money system collapses could not be done more efficiently form of production whereby goods
and we write tomes trying to explain without it. Efficiency depends upon are produced not for profit but
why, but we still cling to it as if it simplicity. to meet needs. This means that
were sacrosanct, an integral part of MELVIN CHAPMAN, Bath ownership of the means of creating
us. Yet it is no more than a reflection wealth, i.e. factories, land resources
of the primitive assumption that Reply: Actually, what we want is have to be taken away from the few
resources are scarce, a set of symbols not just to abolish money but to see who currently own them so that they
that are supposed to represent those established a society based on the become the property of all the people
resources; but symbols are not the common ownership of the means under democratic control.
resources themselves nor do they of wealth production, where money Just think – governments
produce anything, only lead to the would be redundant. We don’t think are currently subsidising car
infinite complexities of marketing this will happen through money manufacturers to keep people
and exchange in which everything gradually losing its value, as you producing cars that are not needed
that we do is controlled by cost. In seem to be suggesting. It will require in order to keep people in jobs. I
a moneyless system there would be a determined political struggle have sympathy for the poor devils
only production and distribution against those who currently own and thrown out of jobs leading to all sorts
according to demand, a simple control the means of production and of problems (loss of homes etc) but
matter in these days of instant benefit from the money-wages-profits what a crazy state of affairs.
communication. system that is capitalism - Editors. I received a reply saying that
Economists hope that the by their calculations we’ve only got
recession will end and once again be about seven years to get on top of the
followed by boom, but there is a limit Greenpeace problem of climate change and that
to the creation of ever-more trivia the writer didn’t think the change of
to employ us and to stimulate our Dear Editors economic system I was suggesting
greed, so that unemployment is likely For what it is worth (really nothing) could be made in that sort of
to increase without limit. I have supported Greenpeace over timetable. Maybe not, but what if the
The basic tenet of the capitalist a number of years. In response to problem just cannot be solved within
system and the one over-riding a recent questionnaire as to what I the present economic system? That
impediment to social advance is the thought of Greenpeace I said that the would be seven wasted years.
limit we impose on the quantity of world’s problems in my opinion could Peter Finch, Reading
money in circulation to preserve only be resolved by the dismantling
its value, so that to rid ourselves of of capitalism. I received a reply
the money system would require no recommending me to have a look at
more than to allow the quantity of it the New Economics Foundation. I
to increase until it lost all value, a did this and replied as follows.
process that, despite all our efforts I have looked at the NEF Website
to control inflation, is happening and have to say that NEF is simply
gradually all the time. another reformist outfit that thinks
Without that impediment there with a little tinkering capitalism
would be an advance in human will work. On this evening’s BBC
understanding as significant as were 5 o’clock news mention was made
the development of speech or writing. that 40,000 homes having been
Money is just a parasite. repossessed in the current crisis –
We are very clever but by failing 40,000 homes lying empty. I heard
to distinguish between cleverness Dyson (vacuum cleaners) the inventor
and intelligence, cause and effect, we saying that by encouraging children
have allowed our primitive emotions in schools to learn engineering
of greed, selfishness and aggression Britain could reclaim some of the
to control our intellectual and social lost ground in manufacturing, etc.
development, leaving us struggling We live in a society in which goods
against each other in wars and and services are carried out solely
political/economic cut-and-thrust with the aim of making a profit.
that defeat all attempts at social People are ejected from good homes
advance. The latest edition of Imagine, the
because they haven’t the means to
Directly or indirectly all social repay debt. Goods are manufactured Socialist Party of Canada’s journal, is
problems, all human sufferings abroad because labour is cheaper out now. Cheque or money order for
have their origin in the money and owners can achieve more profit. £1 (including postage) to The Socialist
system. There would be no arms These are the laws of the ‘free’ market Party, 52 Clapham High street, London
trade, so none would be produced or economy. Oceans are poisoned
promoted; and with drugs available SW4 7UN.
because of ‘cheap’ disposal of waste.

Socialist Standard April 2009 5

April 09 bdh.indd 5 23/3/09 12:24:40

Antics in the
South China Sea

he recent incidents in the middle of the South to control most of the South China Sea, an area of some
China Sea, in which a large American ship was 2 million square kilometres – to turn it into a “Chinese
“harassed” by various Chinese boats, have a lake.” The legal case cooked up by its diplomats involves
comical aspect. The “harassment” seems to have been claiming the three main archipelagos in the sea as
mostly a matter of uncomfortably close approaches, Chinese territory and then demarcating an Exclusive
flag waving, and beaming lights. The most violent Economic Zone (EEZ) 200 miles (320 km.) wide around
moment was when the Americans used fire hoses them as well as Hainan Island and along the shore of the
to drench the sailors on a boat that had come too mainland.
close, inducing them to strip to their underwear. Finally, China seeks to erase the distinction between
These antics, however, may be the prelude to more territorial waters and an EEZ. The UN Convention on
serious conflict. An armed clash between China and the the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) prohibits the presence of a
US is, perhaps, more likely to occur in the South China spy ship in territorial waters, but not in an EEZ. The US
Sea than in the context of a putative Chinese invasion of position is that USNS Impeccable did not enter China’s
Taiwan. territorial waters – it was 75 miles (120 km.) off the coast
of Hainan at the time of the incidents – so its activity is
A spy ship perfectly legal.
Many reports have described the American vessel, Of course, it does not matter to us as socialists which
USNS Impeccable, as a “survey ship” or “ocean side has the better case in terms of international law.
surveillance ship.” This creates the misleading impression The whole world is the common heritage of mankind,
that such ships exist for the purpose of oceanographic and we do not recognize the right of capitalist powers to
mapping or scientific carve it up among
research. themselves.
In fact, although
they are unarmed and Other issues
have civilian crews, the While the
“survey ships” belong to military issue is
the US navy and their the direct cause of
function is to collect the current clash
military intelligence. between China and
They are really spy the US, as it was
ships. of a similar clash
The main job of the involving aircraft in
survey ship deployed 1991, there are also
in the South China Sea other major issues
is to track the Chinese at stake.
submarines that patrol First, rights in
there, operating from the South China
a base at the southern Sea are crucial to
tip of Hainan Island. control over vital
These are nuclear shipping lanes.
submarines carrying The shortest
intercontinental route between
ballistic missiles – that the Indian and
is, they constitute the Pacific Ocean
China’s “nuclear passes through
deterrent.” The tracking is done by means of underwater the sea. This, for instance, is the route taken by tankers
sonar arrays attached to the ship by cables. There was transporting crude oil from the Gulf to East Asia. One
some attempt by Chinese sailors to sever the cables and rationale for the US presence is to keep the sea routes
set the arrays adrift. open: if China were allowed strategic dominance it could
It is true that USNS Impeccable, lacking armaments close off the Malacca Strait, which connects the South
more powerful than fire hoses, does not by itself pose a China Sea with the Indian Ocean.
direct threat to the submarines. But the data it collects There are also plenty of resources to fight about in
could be passed on to another vessel equipped with and under the sea, including valuable fishing grounds
anti-submarine missiles. In other words, the spy ship is and still unexploited oil and gas fields. This is the
a key component of anti-submarine warfare capability. underlying reason why it is so difficult to unravel the
It is therefore no surprise that the Chinese government complicated tangle of territorial disputes over the sea and
should want it to leave the area. its islands among the six coastal states: China, Vietnam,
Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines. In 1974
Legalities of carve-up and 1988 these disputes led to military clashes – in both
It is in large part with a view to securing a sanctuary cases between China and Vietnam.
for its nuclear submarines that China asserts the right STEFAN

6 Socialist Standard April 2009

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Socialist Standard April 2009 7

April 09 bdh.indd 7 23/3/09 12:24:41

“Supertankers that once raced “China is aggressively accelerating the pace of its “A jobless Taiwan man released
around the world to satisfy an manned space program by developing a 17,000 lb. man- from prison two years ago asked
tended military space laboratory planned for launch by police to send him back so he
unquenchable thirst for oil are now
late 2010. The mission will coincide with a halt in U.S. could eat, police and local media
parked offshore, fully loaded, anchors
manned flight with phase-out of the shuttle. The project
down, their crews killing time. In the said Tuesday, a grim sign of hard
is being led by the General Armaments Department of
United States, vast storage farms economic times on the island.
the People’s Liberation Army, and gives the Chinese two
for oil are almost out of room. As When police found the 45-year-
separate station development programs. Shenzhou 8,
demand for crude has plummeted, the first mission to the outpost in early 2011 will be flown old convicted arsonist lying on a
the world suddenly finds itself awash unmanned to test robotic docking systems. Subsequent street in a popular Taipei shopping
in oil that has nowhere to go. It’s missions will be manned to utilize the new pressurized district, he requested a return to
been less than a year since oil prices module capabilities of the Tiangong outpost. Importantly, life behind bars, nostalgic for the
hit record highs. But now producers China is openly acknowledging that the new Tiangong 10 years he had already served,
and traders are struggling with the outpost will involve military space operations and the China Post newspaper
new reality: The world wants less oil, technology development. (Spaceflight News, 2 March) reported. Wang had also
not more. And turning off the spigot is contacted police separately with
about as easy as turning around one CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS? his request, a spokesman said.
of those tankers. So oil companies “At an exclusive soiree tomorrow evening at an Officers who found him bought
and investors are stashing crude, upmarket London bar, an elite circle of VIPs will sprawl him a boxed lunch but declined to
waiting for demand to rise and the on velvet beds as they receive relaxing, complimentary send him back to prison, the police
bear market to end so they can turn a massages. Around the corner at an equally glamorous spokesman said. ‘We advised him
profit later. Meanwhile, oil-producing event, guests will be entertained by circus performers to keep looking for work,’ he said.
countries such as Iran have pumped and big-name DJs as they sip champagne. Most of ‘I don’t know why he can’t find a
millions of barrels of their own crude Britain may be in cost-cutting mode as the recession job. Maybe employers think he’s
into idle tankers, effectively taking worsens, but it seems that someone forgot to tell the not suitable or that he’s too old.’
crude off the market to halt declining fashion industry. London Fashion Week kicked off its Taiwan is in recession, with a
prices that are devastating their 25th anniversary celebrations by popping bottles of slump in exports leading a record
economies.” (International Herald Moet et Chandon before 10am yesterday, and fashion economic contraction in the fourth
Tribune, 3 March) labels promised a weekend of opulent and expensive quarter of last year.” (Yahoo News,
parties.” (Times, 21 February) 24 February)
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Burleigh Mews, Hardy Lane, M21 7LB. Richard Headicar, 42 Woodcote, Firs Rd, Street, Waun Wen, Swansea SA1 6FB. 02144 USA. E-mail: wspboston@covad.
Tel: 0161 860 7189 Hethersett, NR9 3JD. Tel: 01603 814343. Tel: 01792 643624 net

8 Socialist Standard April 2009

April 09 bdh.indd 8 23/3/09 12:24:41

Price and Qty

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and technological innovation will not be as rapid as the How we Live and How we Might Live by William Morris.....................£1.50 x____
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Marxism Revisited..............................................................................£2.00 x____
Given capitalism, something like this is bound to happen
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Are We Prisoners of our Genes?........................................................£4.75 x____
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Socialist Standard April 2009 9

April 09 bdh.indd 9 23/3/09 12:24:42

Banks, who needs them?
If there was production directly for use we wouldn’t
need banks

re the banks and greedy and backs in production, factory closures a privileged minority within it.
incompetent bankers to blame and redundancies; overexpansion Common ownership is in fact the
for the current economic of credit leads to not all loans being same as no ownership. It means that
crisis? That’s what a lot of people repaid and to bank losses and credit nobody or no group can exercise
think and what the media seems to crunches. In fact, normally it is ownership rights over any productive
want us to think. Certainly, bank overproduction that brings about the resource. These will simply be there,
directors generally are greedy – contraction of credit and the pricking to be used to produce what people
awarding themselves huge “salaries”, of speculative bubbles. Which is need. But how? It will simply be
bonuses and pensions – and some of where we are now. a question of finding some way of
them are incompetent on their own If the capitalist system of deciding what people want and then
terms. But blaming them is to let the production for profit is to blame, of arranging for this to be produced.
real culprit off the hook: the capitalist the only way to avoid periodically- “Simple” not because it really will be
system of production for profit. occurring crises is to get rid of it and that simple, but simple compared
Capitalism inevitably brings about replace it with a new and different with what has to happen today
from time to time a fall in production system. But what? Socialists under capitalism where money – and
(despite plenty of unmet needs). advocate that production be carried the drive to make more money –
Banks and bankers are no different on purely and simply to meet people’s complicates things.
from other capitalist enterprises needs. Production for use instead The aim of production under
and their directors. When there are of production for profit, or rather, capitalism is for those who own
profits to be made they go for them production solely for use since even and control workplaces to make
and the devil take the hindmost. under capitalism what is produced a monetary profit, to end up with
In the real economy this results in has to be useful (or at least seem to more money than they started off
overproduction relative to market be useful), otherwise it wouldn’t sell with. This involves selling what has
demand; in the financial sector and there’d be no profit to be made been produced and at a higher price
it results in the overexpansion of out of arranging for it to be produced. than was paid for the resources,
credit, fuelling speculative bubbles. But before there can be including the working skills of the
Both of which inevitably production solely for use, we – actual producers, used in producing
eventually society – will have to be in a position it. Everything has a monetary
end in tears. to control production, to decide what value. To calculate profits, the
Overproduction (and how and where) things are cost of everything bought and the
leads to cut- produced, and we can only do this if income from everything sold has
the places where things are produced to be recorded. In other words, a
and the materials to produce them whole superstructure of monetary
are no longer the exclusive property accounting is imposed on the actual
of rich individuals, corporations and process of production. Banks come
sovereign states. They must have into it as gatherers of funds to lend
become instead the common property to other capitalist enterprises.
of the whole of society. Which is Of course, with production
not the same as state ownership, solely for use, a record in physical
or nationalisation, as states never quantities of the resources used in
represent the interests of the producing something will have to be
whole of society but kept too. But under capitalism this is
only of duplicated by parallel

10 Socialist Standard April 2009

April 09 bdh.indd 10 23/3/09 12:24:42

“Banks and bankers are no different from other capitalist
enterprises and their directors. When there are profits to be made
they go for them and the devil take the hindmost”

records of the monetary value of is produced; the level of consumer infrastructure projects as well as for
these quantities. In socialism, demand, and its ups and downs, is a introducing new products.
with production solely for use, this consequence of this. But, leaving this But whatever the arrangements,
second recording will disappear, so aside, it is true that under capitalism with production solely for use, money
simplifying the organisation of the signals as to what to produce are will have no place. So neither will
production of wealth. After all, all conveyed via the market. the complications that it brings to
that is needed to produce wealth are With socialism, and production the organisation of the production of
materials that originally came from solely for use, the consumer really wealth. Money may make the world
nature and humans with the skills to will be the start of the process go round under capitalism but it
fashion these into useful things. leading to the production of also, from time to time, stops the
things and services for individual world going round, creating unused
Production for use consumption, only the message resources alongside increased unmet
Even without money and needs.
monetary calculation it will still be With production solely for use,
necessary to co-ordinate the relations overproduction could still occur
between the different workplaces. but only by accident (and it would
One suggestion that has been be overproduction in relation to
put forward by socialists is what real needs, not in relation to paying
has been called “self-regulating demand as today) but this would not
production for use” which, for have the consequences it does today.
goods and services for individual It would not clog up production and
consumption, would operate on lead to its interruption. Production
the same basis as the market is in other sectors would continue as
supposed to operate today. before. So would consumption since
According to economics textbooks, what people can consume would not
production today is initiated in be tied to working for a monetary
response to how “consumers” choose income as today. Everybody would
to spend their money. They “vote” be able to satisfy their needs,
for what they want to be produced irrespective of whether or not they
by what they spend their money were currently working, without
on. Those who own and control being restricted by the amount of
workplaces producing particular money they have.
types of consumer goods and services No money means of course no
respond by organising the production Why we don’t need bankers: Fred Goodwin banks either. Saving, borrowing and
of what people have chosen to buy. lending will have no more sense in
If people choose to buy more, they a production-for-use society than
get their workers to produce more; will be conveyed not by what they buying and selling. So, what we
if people choose to buy less, they get can afford to pay for but what they say about the banks is not regulate
their workers to produce less. These actually take to satisfy their needs. them, nor nationalise them, but
workplaces producing consumer We can imagine that they go into a make them redundant. Abolish
goods order the materials to produce super-store as today and take off them, along with all the rest of the
them from other workplaces and the shelves what they need. What complicated, financial superstructure
they from their suppliers and so is taken off over a given period will of the capitalist production-for-profit
the initial paying demand works its be recorded and transmitted to economy.
way through the whole network of suppliers. If stocks are down, this ADAM BUICK
workplaces, through those producing will be a signal to produce more; if
machinery to mines and farms they are slow to move that would
producing the original materials from be a signal to produce less – and so
nature. on throughout the whole productive
Of course this ignores the fact network. It will be more or less self-
that the money most consumers regulating like today except that
have to spend is limited by the size the messages will be conveyed as
of their wage or salary, the total required amounts only and not this
amount of which depends on how and their monetary value.
much labour those who own and This is only one suggestion
control workplaces want to employ. as to how the production and
Which depends on how much profit distribution of wealth, or at least of
they think they can make by selling consumer goods and services, could
their product. In other words, it is be organised without money. Other
the prospects for profit-making, not more directly planned arrangements
consumer demand, that initiates would have to be made for
production and determines what expanding productive capacity and

Socialist Standard April 2009 11

April 09 bdh.indd 11 23/3/09 12:24:42

What is to be

As capitalism loses some of its legitimacy, what

should those who want to get rid of capitalism
be doing?

fter the battle of El Alamein, Churchill only ageing cadres remain, preserving political traditions
famously said “This is not the end. It is rather than engaging in productive activity, recruitment
not even the beginning of the end. But and debate.
it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.
In some ways, the socialist position on the latest The battle of ideas
slump should be similar (minus, of course, the The first, most important battle is to continue the
celebration of mass slaughter). Capitalism has lost its destruction of capitalism’s legitimacy in the minds of our
veneer of invincibility, which is much of its strength. fellow class members. That is, to drive the development
Pundits who a couple of years ago would have referred of our class as a class-for-itself, mindful of the fact that
to “the economic system” – as if there was no other – capitalism is a thing that can be destroyed and a thing
have started to refer to capitalism. And as the possibility that should be destroyed. As it rapidly crumbles from a
of pensions fades out of view, job security becomes a high peak to a lower base, most workers “shouldn’t need
memory (to those who ever had it), people lose their a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”, as
houses, their savings, we can expect a similar reaction the song has it.
amongst those members of our class who had previously The second is to develop an effective medium of
had no cause to question their life’s trajectory within engagement between workers and politics. A great
capitalism. deal of energy has been expended on this topic in
It is therefore imperative to use this opportunity, the past, mainly because all political parties which
as capitalism’s feet of clay are broken, to build afresh lose membership will, understandably, see this as
rather than patch up the past. And we are building from an institutional failing. This is frankly hubris. For
a weak base. Across the entire spectrum of political an organisation to think that it is capable of single-
opinion membership numbers in parties are down – the handedly failing the working class is to reject the
working class has been demobilised politically, and often materialist approach, that our ideas come from our life

12 Socialist Standard April 2009

April 09 bdh.indd 12 23/3/09 12:24:43

circumstances and not from an all-knowing vanguard. the rooftops along with our call to action.
This medium of engagement has to take account of We focus our differences at the level of ideas. Front
society’s development; open-air meetings at Hyde Park, organisations are only organisations that suppress
for example, may be superseded by Second Life. The debate and engage in conflict at a lower level. Classic
only way to establish this is to explore all avenues and cases are the recent Socialist Alliance, and Respect,
reinforce those that work, while remaining confident in coalitions which have been the means for various Left
the class’s revolutionary potential. traditions to draw working class support together, all to
The third is to ensure that the right ideas for the then vie with each other to recruit for members within
working class win out, and constitute the basis for the this pool. Only in such an environment could one use
overall class struggle. Historically this battle of ideas the word ‘comrade’ to refer to an organisational enemy.
has been waged both in the mind – in debates, lectures The Weekly Worker often carries records of physical
and social events – and on the streets. We of course ejections from meetings, even beatings, amongst these
favour the first approach, and do all we can to keep supposed comrades. The working class is profoundly
activity there. This is not just a matter of aesthetics. All deterred by these antics; perhaps more importantly,
of capitalism’s power, including its coercive power, is in the idea that workers can never attain more than “trade
the hands of the working class; fighting can only firstly union consciousness” is made self-fulfilling by denying
divide us and secondly weaken us. debate.
The coming months and years will see many
Capitalism digs its own grave organisations, calling themselves working class, trying to
While socialists have few resources, capitalism’s own establish or re-establish themselves. Calls will be made
failings have far more reach and power to convince our to support this or that country, this or that leader, this
class of the folly of capitalism than we possess – the or that party. There is a simple way to negotiate this
largest organisations claiming to be revolutionary may maze: those that do all they can to make space for the
just about win a couple of column inches with a large working class themselves to become revolutionary, are
demonstration, as opposed to daily front page news of revolutionary: all others are impostors. The object must
corruption, failure and despair from the mainstream be nothing short of a society that has the liberation
press. Capitalism will provide its own gravediggers. of our class from capitalism as its precondition: the
Existing organisations can at best address points two abolition of wage slavery. We have the power to do this
and three above – re-establish a mass political culture if we are confident and not distracted. We as a class
amongst our class, whilst engaging in debate between must be trusted with our own decisions, and credited
the various political traditions and throwing the matter with the ability to know our own interests. And there
open to our class, that the best ideas win in terms of should be no preaching of violence within the class; we
membership. fail when our energies turn against each other. In effect,
This also determines the level of cooperation between this means that the revolution should be as peaceful as
these traditions. All, presumably, want a climate in possible; all those who now bear arms are workers like
which working class ideas can flourish. Though some ourselves, and history has shown how unwilling workers
may be powerful enough to have their own mass papers, can be to fire on each other unless backed into a corner.
in practice preaching is only to the converted. But we should be hostile to all those who try to sow
Authoritarian parties are hostile at the second level: defeatism amongst our class, doubt our revolutionary
rather than defending their own ideas, they create their ability or ability to organise ourselves, who attempt to
own political ghettoes, such as the old Communist turn our energies to their own ends.
parties which denigrated and suppressed their We have, of course, more to say than this. Lessons
opposition so as not to compete (and fail) at the level of from history that have been learned, the writings of
demonstrating the relative values of their ideas. This is past revolutionaries, and more. But these things are a
where streetfighting plays its role: physically removing touchstone to avoid the errors of the past: the revolution
opposition that one cannot overcome in a battle of hearts should be for the class and by the class, together as
and minds, whilst destroying the climate in which the comrades. We may not, this time, end capitalism. But
working class can find its way. The revolution is aborted we can sense the beginning of the end; and get going a
in the process, not defended. This is another reason why political party with socialism as its objective, not small
a socialist revolution must be peaceful, at least as far as reforms but the overthrow of capitalism – that is the end
our class is concerned. of the beginning.
By contrast, a genuine revolutionary party in SJW
capitalism is, by definition, a party of the working class.
A depoliticised working class cannot make a socialist
revolution. It must be a party that operates at the level
of discussion between workers, not so as to fetishise
a particular political form but because a successful
socialist revolution is made by the working class coming
to revolutionary ideas.

Let’s have a party

This brings us to defending our own political
tradition. We are a party of the third part, so to speak:
we focus on debate between traditions, engaging workers
in the process, whilst maintaining the medium (finding
out how people engage in politics, making the process
a positive one). Even if we had the power to affect the
news, we would have no need to engage in ‘propaganda’
in its pejorative sense; the simple facts damn capitalism
amply enough, and it is enough to shout these facts from

Socialist Standard April 2009 13

April 09 bdh.indd 13 23/3/09 12:24:43

Northern Ireland: a return to violence?
Violence will not make people into socialists

wo British soldiers shot ideas inside that head, at least in any British. So he has had to write more
dead at Masserene Barracks worthwhile way. Rational discussion floods of words defending the deaths
in Northern Ireland, and a will finally make Socialists. We of some hundreds of thousands of
policeman shot dead in Craigavon, believe that by considered argument Iraqis, as well as many British and
by dissident Republicans who want we can show how co-operation American soldiers, because all that
to re-draw the present political and mutual assistance will achieve was merely a by-product of getting
frontiers. Instead of dividing the six what we all want to achieve – a rid of Saddam Hussein, a brutal
counties from the rest of Ireland, peaceful, harmonious, and contented dictator who was hostile to the
the frontier (they demand) should existence. Violence we leave to Americans. (Let’s not mention all
be moved and instead divide Ireland others. those brutal dictators friendly to the
from the somewhat larger island to People who support a capitalist Americans, who the Americans have
the east, containing the capitalist state, people who support a capitalist propped up.) It’s hard to say how
entity known as Great Britain. But party, are led remorselessly into many Iraqis have died, of course.
socialists do not want to re-draw supporting violence. But it is As the American general who led
any frontiers: they want to abolish interesting how often politicians the attack on Iraq said about Iraqi
frontiers. Frontiers are entirely casualties, “We don’t do body counts”
artificial boundaries, whether by (though American casualties were
land or sea. All a frontier does is “People who support reported with great care). But the
to mark out one bit of the Earth’s lowest figure that the most dedicated
surface where one ruling class a capitalist state, warmonger has come up with is
has power from the next bit of the
Earth’s surface where another ruling people who support 100,000. Other people have said the
number of violent deaths since the
class has power. Since socialism
would put an end to the ruling
a capitalist party, are invasion is 600,000 – some contend
that the true figure is a million. And
class of every state, frontiers would
cease to have any meaning, and
led remorselessly that is not counting all the other
hundreds of thousands of Iraqi
would therefore cease to exist. into supporting civilians who have been injured, but
No violence, no death or injury, have survived, all the maimed and
will bring socialism any closer. violence” the handicapped, all those who will
Socialism will be brought about never walk again, all those who will
when the great majority of the never see again. The boy whose whole
world’s people want it to be brought and journalists who steadfastly family was killed, and both of whose
about. We want to change people’s support violence when it comes from arms were blown off by a bomb, was
ideas. Violence will not make people what they think is “their own” side, still alive, so did not himself add to
into Socialists. nevertheless quickly explode with the total of deaths. Never mind! If you
Banging a cudgel anger when it comes from someone support one capitalist state against
down on else. One columnist on the Times, the other capitalist states, supporting
someone’s David Aaronovitch, champions Israel violence is what you have to do: and
head is not against the Palestinians; he therefore that is what this columnist has had
going to has had to write torrents of words to do.
alter trying to show that the deaths of well After writing reams of comment
the over a thousand men women and justifying the deaths, the injuries,
children in Gaza, killed by Israeli and the destruction in Gaza and in
bullets and bombs, are excusable, Iraq, and no doubt having felt very
because it is only in retaliation for uncomfortable having been forced, by
the Israeli civilians killed the his political beliefs, to do it, he has
rockets fired by Palestinian leapt with avidity on the deaths of
militias. He also supported the the two British soldiers in Northern
invasion of Iraq by the Ireland. (He wrote his column
Americans and before the death of the Craigavon
the policeman.) Now, at last, he obviously
feels, he can be on the side of
the angels (Times, 10

The Belfast ‘Peace Line’. Socialists don’t want to re-draw frontiers: they want
to abolish them.

14 Socialist Standard April 2009

April 09 bdh.indd 14 23/3/09 12:24:43

The two deaths are “terrorism”, and a
return to “the ‘armed struggle’ ”
which is only “a euphemism for Capitalism’s
reserve army
strolling up behind someone and
blasting their brains out all over
their children”. He poured scorn on
the idea that any “grievance” that

of labour
“springs from real social and political
conditions” can ever justify such
“an act of terror”. The suggestion
that the shooting might be revenge
for the recent re-introduction
into Northern Ireland of “army
intelligence” operators, or perhaps Full employment is not the normal state of capitalism
“spies” as some might call them,

led to an eruption of anger on the hen Ramsay MacDonald’s the myth, exploded by Karl Marx
columnist’s part. “Rubbish. Really, second Labour government more than 60 years before, that full
absolute rubbish.” This action merely came to power in 1929, employment is the normal state of
shows that “violent republicanism is unemployment had been at a capitalism, and unemployment the
back in a new, potent, death-dealing steady 10 percent of the working exception.
guise”, a “return to killing in Ulster”. population for several years, Entirely to the contrary, Marx
This is merely “the first atrocity around 1 million. Within a year, demonstrated that not only was a
in a desired new cycle of attacks, the effect of the Great Depression pool of unemployed workers the
arrests, martyrdoms . . . and crying was to send unemployment norm under capitalism, it was in
children”. Those supporting the rocketing to 2.5 million, causing fact intrinsic and essential to the
killing are merely “unattractive men the collapse of that second Labour workings of the wages system for
with bald heads and pallid skin”, who attempt to reform capitalism. there to be such a pool. He referred
“imagine themselves to be Wolfe Tone MacDonald held steadfastly to it was the “industrial reserve
or James Connolly reborn”, or else to classical economic views. He army”. For Marx, the relative size of
“middle-aged matrons, brought up frowned on the dole as a cause of this reserve had a direct effect on the
in the purple of Republicanism, but indolence and unemployment, and level of wages – as it increased, wages
now with roots showing through the believed that equilibrium in the jobs shrank, and vice versa. The upward
dye”. Any supposed “grievance comes market could be found. That is, full limit of wages was the point at which
second. The desire to hate and kill employment will come if barriers to they began to unduly impact on
comes first, and then grubs around wages finding their “natural” level profitability. High wages would lead
in the shit for its excuse.” Strange are removed. He was, thus, content employers to either discover labour-
to think that in 1798 Wolfe Tone, to agree to the May Report which saving processes, or simply lay off
and in 1916 James Connolly, would included cutting the dole to those two staff and cut back operations.
have been the target for similar and a half million, in order to balance This indicates how the industrial
attacks by writers in the respectable the government’s budget. That was reserve army works both ways.
newspapers, though perhaps this the move that caused his government Economic historians attribute the
writer has broken new ground to collapse, and for MacDonald to go rise of the United States as an
with his scatological language, and down in Labour Party history as the economic and industrial power house
his fevered imaginings about the great traitor, as he jumped ship to to the relative scarcity of skilled
supposed physical unattractiveness form the National Government. labour in the nineteenth century
of his opponents. Manifestly, this did not work, and (exacerbated by the fact that workers
The shootings at Masserene unemployment remained steadfastly could strike out to find frontier land,
Barracks and at Craigavon were high. Dole or low dole, workers rather than accept unemployment).
indefensible, the deaths were were simply unable to find jobs This compelled American capitalists
indefensible, the motive (the because the capitalists of the time to improve the intensive exploitation
redrawing of capitalism’s frontiers) held steadfastly to their principle of of their capital in order to be able to
was indefensible. But how a man “no profit, no employment”. Their effectively use the labour resources
can write many pages justifying the mistake had been to cling to to hand. That is, that capital has an
deaths of half a million or more,
and then work himself up into a
rage of furious indignation over the
deaths of two, defies any rational
explanation. People who oppose all
violence, all killing, are at least being
consistent: but people who support
capitalism, who support this or that
capitalist state, will find that they are
defending violence, and defending
killing, whether they want to or
not. So they cannot help sounding
hypocritical when they then jump
over the fence and try to denounce
Unemployed workers queue for work,
New York City, 1933.

Socialist Standard April 2009 15

April 09 bdh.indd 15 23/3/09 12:24:44

incentive in not letting the reserve army get too large.
Another feature of Marx’ theory was that the
unemployment is not a function of population. That
is, it is not simply growth in the number of mouths
to feed that causes unemployment, but that it is a
wholly determined variable based on the state of the
Capitalism is working
investment of capital. As more capital is brought
The Times (9 March) carried an article by Eamonn Butler, the
into play, so too is more labour. Unemployment is
director of the Adam Smith Institute. Yes, they are still around,
a relative phenomena based simply on the ratio of
even if it might be thought that they would be keeping a low
employees to those seeking work. This can clearly
profile these days, given that the pursuit of profit has yet again
be seen in UK statistics. In 1900 the population
led to overproduction and a financial and economic crisis, a
was around 38 million, and unemployment stood
really big one this time.
at around 5 percent, at the end of the Twentieth
Butler began by quoting a speech by an American professor
Century the population was close to 60 million, and
called Boettke at a recent gathering of Mad Marketeers in New
unemployment was still only around 5 percent, its
changes do not track population growth..
“If you bound the arms and legs of gold-medal swimmer
People can be taken out of this reserve army.
Michael Phelps, weighed him down with chains, threw him in
For example, in the 1960’s Harold Wilson’s Labour
a pool and he sank, you wouldn’t call it a ‘failure of swimming’.
government had to seriously debate whether the
So, when markets have been weighted down by inept and
country could afford to raise the school leaving age to
excessive regulation, why call this a ‘failure of capitalism’?”
16, drawing all those young workers out of the labour
That depends on what you mean by capitalism. Boettke
force at a time of nearly full employment. Nowadays,
seems to mean the spontaneous operation of production for
under the current Labour administration, they have a
profit and the market. But that’s not really capitalism; it’s just a
policy of keeping at least half of school leavers in full
policy that some capitalists (and their paid and unpaid publicists)
time education until they are 21. Many commentators
have favoured at some times.
have noted that incapacity benefit has become
Capitalism is a system of production for sale on a market
prevalent in areas of large stagnant unemployment
with a view to profit. Ideologists such as Butler and Boettke
over the years. That, and the dole, allow some
are assuming that there is some irreconcilable conflict between
sections of the workforce to become economically
the profit system and government intervention. But there isn’t.
inactive, and thus no longer contributing to the labour
Capitalism has never existed without government intervention
pool and the reserve army.
and never will. For a start, it is based on the exclusion of
Interestingly, the latest figures from the Office
the majority from the ownership and control of the means of
for National Statistics in the UK suggests that as
production, which are monopolised by a profit-seeking minority.
times become more straightened, these economically
A state is needed to maintain this exclusion. This has to be
inactive people are entering the labour market. At the
paid for, so taxes have to be levied. Capitalists in one country
same time, underemployment has grown. People are
are in competition with capitalists from other countries, and
working fewer hours (and thus making less money) in
governments have always intervened to help “their” capitalists
order to retain some sort of employment. Although
with tariffs and subsidies and, if need be, by military action.
they are not unemployed, they are part of the reserve
So, capitalism and the state are not incompatibles. They go
army, in as much as many of them would, if they
together. What is true is that the consensus of capitalist opinion
could, convert to full time work if it was available.
varies at times as to the desirable degree of government
The latest figures, for January, show that
intervention. What seems to be annoying the Adam Smith
unemployment in Britain has now passed the 2
Institute today is that their ideological rivals, the Keynesians,
million mark. Although in absolute terms those
who have no qualms about government intervention in the
numbers are similar to the level of unemployment that
capitalist economy, are making a come-back because of the
destroyed MacDonald, because the total and working
present crisis.
populations have increased it is not yet as drastic.
“Up to now”, Butler wrote, “the Keynesians have made the
Those figures, though, only represent a return to
running. Greed, they say, has brought down the world economy.
the levels of the late 1990’s. Indeed, in the Thatcher
Only massive public spending can revive it”. If by “greed” Butler
years, figures of nearly three and a half million were
means the pursuit of profits, the Keynesians are not against
seen (and that resulted in collective bargaining by riot
that, even if they certainly are in favour of trying to spend the
in some particularly hard hit areas). It should also be
way of the crisis. But that’s just an alternative policy for the
noted, though, that national figures vary regionally,
profit system to the one favoured by the Adam Smith Institute.
and poor areas, like inner city London, the North East
It’s not a negation of capitalism.
and Glasgow, say, already had higher than national
Butler proffers his own explanation for the crisis: “excessive
average unemployment, and are likely to be more
regulation” (of course). This assumes that, without this, the crisis
swiftly affected by the current rises than elseplace.
would not have occurred. He rather undermines this approach
One new aspect of the current round of
by concluding his article by saying that “occasional crises
unemployment is the role of EU migrant labour. As a
are the cost of the prosperity that entrepreneurial capitalism
highly mobile workforce with little by way of invested
roots, it may well soak up some of the costs while
So, crises are going to occur anyway, even in his ideal,
leaving the resident workforce of the UK less hard hit,
unregulated capitalist world! And what, without excessive
although the figures above seem to indicate, so far,
regulation to blame, would they be caused by if not by the
otherwise. Indeed, British citizens are emigrating less,
pursuit of profits leading to overproduction in some sector in
and this off-sets any trend. In the days of the Empire,
relation to the market, from which the only way out is a crisis to
one way of regulating the reserve army of labour was
eliminate the lame ducks and the deadwood, as capitalists like
emigration, and it seems the EU fulfils a similar role
to refer to their inefficient colleagues? In this sense, Boettke
today. That said, unemployment is unevan across the
is right. This and other crises don’t represent the “failure of
EU, and is itself growing.
capitalism”, but capitalism working normally.

16 Socialist Standard April 2009

April 09 bdh.indd 16 23/3/09 12:24:44

Food: commodity or need?
Enough calories are already produced 20 percent of the population (212 million) were
undernourished there were 2440 available calories per
in the world today to avoid anyone person per day.
having to starve. It’s just that millions Another example is that in Ethiopia in 2001-3 with 46
percent of the population (31.5 million) undernourished
can’t afford to buy the food containing there were 1860 available calories per person per day.
them. So, if enough food to feed domestic populations is
available, why do so many have to go without and where

does the surplus go? Lack of money is the answer to the
ir, water, food; the three essential requirements of
first part and export to the second. Remember the Irish
life. Humans can survive for barely 2-3 minutes
‘potato’ famine when thousands upon thousands died
without air, several days without water and at
of starvation as a result of potato blight decimating the
most a few weeks without food. In our earliest days
crops of the indigenous population? Food was not scarce,
all were born with totally free access to these most
there was plenty of production of food for export and
basic necessities of life – access as required. Now we
for the wealthy but beyond the means of the local poor
still have free air, if of questionable quality, although
whose staple diet was potatoes. What’s different but the
it is possible to buy a refreshing booster session of
century, the geographical location and the sheer scale of
pure, clean oxygen in such cities as Tokyo. Water
the iniquity of the market? The “market” – as if this were
is still freely available to some – an ever-shrinking
a lifeless entity with no human input. The market – in
number – although many of these have to manage
control or out of control, controlling or controlled – can
with a contaminated or disease-ridden supply, daily
have no moral or ethical standards for these are human
risking serious illness or even death. It has become a
qualities to be included or discounted at the decision-
commodity denied to many, a basic requirement of life
making, policy-making processes.
withheld, leading to aggressive acts in local, national
The export of food from the South on a grand scale is
and international arenas. Food, like water, finds those
part of what leaves millions undernourished but export
at the end of the supply chain, those who need the
is a two-way process. The North also exports food to the
commodity rather than those who desire the profit, are
South, highly subsidised food which makes it untenable
the least likely to be consulted regarding the supply.
for farmers in the importing country to compete, forcing
According to T. Lang in The Ecologist (March 2008)
them to switch to crops for export or go out of business.
food is a $6.4 trillion-a-year economy, selling a necessity
Thus the cycle continues. More impoverishment. More
of life, which impoverishes more people than any other
hunger. A glance at the 2008 subsidy figures of the US
sector. There has to be a moral conundrum here if some
reveals $50+ billion given in particular to export crops.
of us are reduced to a daily recurring position of no
In diminishing order, corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, rice,
money, no meal. .
sorghum, barley, peanuts. Absent from the subsidy list
The discussion as to whether the world does or
are fruit and vegetables and crops grown for local US
can produce enough food for the current population
is generally heard through the loudspeaker of the
One of the legacies of the colonisation of the South by
economic/political sector which suggests that
the North has been the imposition of methods of farming
overpopulation is the problem. However, according to the
along with the types of crops to be grown. Huge areas
UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s figures for 2006
of previously diverse multi-crop forests were reduced to
there are enough calories for everyone even in most of
plantations growing single crops specifically for export
the poorer countries, pointing to the fact that hunger is
– bananas, sugar cane, pineapples – decimating the
simply a problem of the barriers to distribution.
land through soil erosion from this unsuitable method
For example, in India between 2001-3 where

Socialist Standard April 2009 17

April 09 bdh.indd 17 23/3/09 12:24:44

of farming and taking away the land and livelihood of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and fibre.
local peasants. The heavy-handed, arrogant approach of Fresh, whole foods, uncontaminated by polluted air and
incomers showing no regard for centuries old successful water or dozens of chemical sprays and manufactured
sustainable methods of farming. additives. More and more studies contradict the
Reinforcing food’s place as a commodity rather conventional view of the industrial agricultural complex,
than a right to a need is the way decisions are generally upheld by politicians, which pushes farming
made by transnational corporations with respect to on a huge scale and uses manufactured fertilisers,
environmental consequences. The North’s subsidised pesticides, herbicides, hormones and genetically
food puts populations in poor countries off their lands modified seed, promoting the idea that bigger is better.
and into urban environments where they then work in It may yield more profit but that is about all. Outside
manufacturing; manufacturing that has been exported the industrial agricultural complex it is recognised that
there for their cheap labour. A World Commission on organic methods are more favourable to producers, soil,
Environment and Development in 1987 reported that sustainability of the environment and to the consumers.
transferring manufacturing to the South was the same A 2007 report from the University of Michigan said
as exporting pollution. Lawrence Summers, when at the that an organic world could yield over 2,641 calories
World Bank (he’s now Obama’s chief economic adviser), per person per day and that small farms are the most
put his name to a document which only half-jokingly productive. This could be interpreted that food viewed as
suggested that exporting pollution to the poorer countries a need rather than a commodity is a viable prospect and
was a good idea financially on another count – people in enough could be available for all when the requirement
those countries died younger anyway from other diseases for profit is removed. Unfortunately, as yet, this is a
and we would be saving on our own pollution clean- disparate group of movements and pressure groups
ups and health-care bills by so doing. Had Southern worldwide which has far from the political clout of
pollution control met minimal Northern standards the the entrenched industrial agricultural complex and
annual bill would have been $14.2 billion more. In other transnational corporations’ lobby which leaves us with
words, make it impossible for peasant farmers to compete the obvious conclusion that the only solution is the
with your highly subsidised food crops, watch them urgent dismantling of the system of commodities in
migrate to cities where they can no longer even grow food favour of one of free access for all.
for themselves and employ them cheaply in polluting (References from Wayne Roberts’ “The No-Nonsense
manufacturing jobs producing goods for export back to Guide to World Food” – one of a series from New
you. Internationalist).
“You are what you eat” or “Food is Life” may be seen JANET SURMAN
as mantras of diet-obsessed wacky people but on a
science-based, physiological level they happen to be true.
To be effectively nourished and maintain decent health
requires an adequate supply in reasonable balance of

Socialism: an
open source
A socialist describes his personal
experience of open source software -
and its socialist implications.
A little over a year ago I started to use something in my daily
life “that’ll never work” because “it’s human nature, mate”; “No
such thing as something for nothing, a free lunch”; “People don’t
work for pleasure, you know, they only work because they have
to or to make money”. Yet here I am, totally chuffed with this
thing that is so opposed to much of the preconceived notion of
“Human Nature” and the ways of this wicked world that it can’t
possibly exist let alone bring some pretty unbridled pleasure to
this 65 year-old anorak.
Any idea what I’m talking about?
Here’re some more clues. Thousands of people
enthusiastically cooperate on thousands of collaborative,
inter-related projects that bring new “products to market” whilst
constantly upgrading and improving existing core “products”.
Many of those people work for little or no financial gain, indeed,

18 Socialist Standard April 2009

April 09 bdh.indd 18 23/3/09 12:24:44

some have worked to the deficit of their own financial situations. forward for institutionalised ritual humiliation). With Ubuntu
They don’t just collaborate in “the office”, they collaborate there’s no digging out those CDs you’ve saved for years from
across the borders of nation states, religious divides and the computer mags to see if there are any freebies that’ll maybe
apartheid walls of economics and race; Russian with Chechen, come close to meeting your particular fantasies . . , you just
Iranian with American, Palestinian with Israeli . . , they do it click on “Add/Remove Programs” and browse through what
without seeking permission from priest or politician. They do seems like thousands of programs in various categories. Each
it to fulfill a passion for the skill and knowledge they bring to has been created by an individual or team that loves computing
the work they do and a shared ideal of bringing the very best and has poured their passion into making each offering the
in computer operating systems and software to the ordinary best it can be. Better still, from the average user’s perspective,
people of this world . . . free! everything is, yes, you guessed it, free.
I’m talking about Linux based Open Source and Ubuntu I suppose I’m a bit like a new convert or a former smoker, on
in particular. Ubuntu is an ancient African word that means the one hand full of enthusiasm for the new “reality” and on the
“humanity to others”. other filled with scorn for what had gone before. The enthusiasm
Based on personal experience, there isn’t a better or more is not without foundation; Ubuntu claims to “work out of the box”
“socialist” way to do your computing. You can download the and it does just that – perfectly. There are no annoying screens
whole caboodle if you have the wherewithal free of charge or telling you that you have to register this or that, no registration
do as I did and order an installation disc which is also free. And keys to be pasted in, no time limitations before you have to pay
free really means free, Ubuntu is shipped to anywhere in the up and no intrusive demands for personal information or email
world post free . . . you’re free, and even encouraged, to make addresses so you can be deluged with stuff you don’t need or
copies and give them away . . . as long as they’re free! want. Under Ubuntu my computer “talks” to all of my cameras
Installation is seamless and painless; upgrading is seamless and cards without recourse to specialised programs, something
and painless. All of the basic programs you could need and a it never did under Windows and my “Photo Shop” type program
few more beside are pre-installed, all are Open Source and free is as beautiful on the eye and as functional as the one that ships
(of course) and because they are created by enthusiasts they with Mac. Programs install and uninstall without leaving behind
are fully featured, look attractive and work. digital detritus to slow or crash the system and such is the make
So, now you’re up and running and you want a few extra up of Ubuntu that it is simply not open to outside attacks by
trinkets to handle all those quirky things many of us like to do virus, root-kit and much else in the way that Windows is. It’s
with our computers. Things like doctoring perfectly normal snap- like taking a cool shower on a hot day . . . so refreshing! How
shots so that they look like something from the crazed world of can something so good be free? I mean, it’s not the way of the
Dali or personalising our “desktops” (something I’m convinced world, is it? It’s not human nature to do something for nothing,
goes back to school desks, penknives and being summoned is it? Without “market forces” quality goes down the drain and
mediocrity becomes the norm, doesn’t it?
Look at Microsoft; based on size of usage they must be the
world’s standard. I’ve used their products for years in many
different incarnations. They’ve built their fortune off my back
. . . have you checked lately what one of their products costs?
And not just them. I’ve lost count of the number of programs I’ve
paid for to try and improve or protect their bloated, worm-holed
operating system from all the nasties out there in cyber-space
only to dump them a few months or years down the road. Or
worse still have them destroy my set-up and data that I should
have backed-up but had put off yet again! Been there? Hey!
That’s the way it is in this techno-corner of the capitalist world,
let the buyer beware; you pays your money and takes your
choice. Not any more, comrades. There really is a better way
out there and it’s called Open Source, it has superior “products”
and an ethos that we can each embrace. Computing for human
Is this beginning to sound like a promo for a socialist
computing Utopia? Or is it a preview of how the world really
ought to be? Much of Open Source is at the real cutting edge
of technical development; a huge percentage of the servers
around the world, machines that run those multi-national
companies and the Internet run on Linux based software. They
pay a lot of money for that privilege, money that keeps Open
Source afloat and enables we plebs and peons to receive
our free CDs mailed free of charge, to freely download free
applications and freely make use of this wonderful working
example of human co-operation. In fact, every individual user
of Ubuntu is encouraged to join the community and contribute
in any way they can, from translations to critique to ideas to
programming skills; use what you need and contribute what you
can . . . where have we heard that before? Next time someone
throws “human nature” in your face or tells you that socialism
will never work offer up Open Source as proof that human
beings are better co-operators and contributors than many give
them credit for.

Socialist Standard April 2009 19

April 09 bdh.indd 19 23/3/09 12:24:45

Book Reviews

Socialist Party A deficit of logic Capitalist childhood

Merchandise The Credit Crunch. Graham A Good Childhood: Searching
Turner. 2008. Pluto Press. for values in a competitive age.
Richard Lazard and Judy Dunn.
Blue with polar bear and ‘If you
Penguin, £9.99. 2009.
were a polar bear, you’d be a
Graham Turner
socialist’ plus party website address.
has made a
Yellow, with blue and green globe Some of us have a good childhood;
number of
‘The world is a treasury for all’ others don’t. Of course it all
appearances on
plus party web site address on. BBC2’s Newsnight depends on what you mean by a
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL. in recent weeks, good childhood. Is it to own a lot of
  helping Paul things – or to be happy? Is it more
Mugs: Mason deconstruct important to have a good relationship
One style: the credit crisis with others – or with yourself?
‘Duet’ - Red and slump. This book is based on the report
and white Turner is of an 18-month survey sponsored
with ‘Only a Keynesian of sorts and a fan of by the Children’s Society, and is
sheep need ‘quantitative easing’ i.e. of central written by an economist and a
leaders’ banks flooding the financial markets psychologist. It deals with a wide
(pictured) with liquidity in the hope that this range of issues connected with
and will get banks lending again, literally childhood: family, friends, lifestyle,
website, with ‘’Famine? War? giving people more money to spend. values, schooling, mental health and
Pollution? Capitalism is the Problem.  As history demonstrates though – inequalities. Its centre-left viewpoint
World Socialism s the Solution’’ and and Marxian economics explains – is well illustrated by the remark
party telephone number. the practical effect of this is further “With immense courage the Labour
  doses of currency inflation as it is government committed itself in
Pens: likely to accelerate the continuing 1999 to abolishing child poverty by
Blue and white, with blue ink ‘Only overissue of inconvertible paper 2020…”
sheep need leaders’ and a sheep currency that has been going on The authors are critical of
plus party website. Red and white, since the Second World War. excessive individualism, by which
This book is currently one of the they mean “the belief that the prime
with blue ink  ‘Workers of the world
most widely available explanations of duty of the individual is to make
unite’ plus party website Black with
the financial crisis in UK bookshops. the most of her life, rather than
black ink. ‘Only sheep need leaders!’
But in essence it is a confused book contribute to the good of others”.
and a sheep plus party website.
and Turner seems to think that the They reject some features of the
reason the Keynesian remedy hasn’t face of childhood in present society,
Baseball caps: but they want to scrub that face
worked on any previous occasion
navy blue, with embroidered ‘’World clean rather than remodel it. Thus
is because the policy levers weren’t
Socialist Movement’’ on. pulled in quite the right order, or at the media “should be embarrassed
  quite the right time. at the amount of physical violence
Balloons: As an illustration of the book’s which they put out and advertisers
different colours, with ‘’World confusion, there are a large number should be embarrassed at their
Socialist Movement’’. of pages discussing in great detail encouragement of premature
  what Turner apparently sees as sexualization, heavy drinking and
Prices: the supposed significance of trade over-eating”. No question of the
Tee shirts £7.00 each (state size deficits and surpluses in various media and advertisers stopping their
when ordering). Mugs £5.00 countries affected by the asset price malign and profit-seeking influence
each. Pens £0.50 each. Baseball bubble. But then he concludes, all on youngsters—just suggest that
caps £5.00 each. Balloons of a sudden and for no particular or they should feel embarrassed at what
15p each. stated reason – much in line with the they do.
  historical evidence but against the The authors are far from holding
Postage and packaging line of his own argument presented the view that there is no such thing
£2.50 for the first £10 and then here – that ‘It does not matter that as society. Indeed they write of
£1.50 for subsequent £10 worths or much whether a country is running a moral education that “it needs to
part thereof. Please send cheque trade deficit or a surplus: a bubble is offer a vision of a good person and
or postal order (no cash) made a bubble, and there are far too many a good society”. But most of the
payable to SPGB SW Regional around’. Indeed. solutions they propose to childhood
Branch, c/o Veronica Clanchy, FAO: Though it includes some problems are at the level of individual
interesting and useful statistical behaviour rather than societal
South West Regional Branch, 42
data and graphs, after this point it change: “If we want to improve our
Winifred Road, Poole, Dorset.  BH15
was difficult to take the book entirely quality of life, we must above all
3PU. Any queries, please phone
seriously and George Cooper’s rival produce better people.”
01202 569826. Please include own
explanation in the Origin of Financial Archbishop Rowan Williams,
phone number or other contact
Crises (reviewed in March) is clearer, patron of the Inquiry Panel,
details. contributes an elegantly waffly 12-
more in accordance with reality and
  page afterword in which he claims
much to be preferred.
DAP that “the report ask far more from

20 Socialist Standard April 2009

April 09 bdh.indd 20 23/3/09 12:24:45

Exhibition Review Meetings
churches and religious communities
– as it does from all kinds of bodies in Rank or class? Annual Conference
Friday 10 April 10.30 to 5.30
our society”. The text does in places
have a vicarish tone (“Children are Rank, the Leeds Art Gallery Saturday 11 April, 10.30 to 5.30
a sacred bush”). But the nearest the Socialist Party Head Office, 52 Clapham
report gets to churchy religion is to “Rank” is an art exhibition organised High St, London SW4
refer to spirituality as “an uplifting by Alistair Robinson of the Northern All Welcome.
experience”, Gallery for Contemporary Arts in
SRP Sunderland and on display across
the North until the autumn. Its
subtitle, “Picturing the Social Order
Public debate
Thursday 23 April, 7.30
Surviving 1516-2009”, pretty much describes
its content – a collection of visual
depictions of class throughout
the centuries. The early material, Yes: John Meadowcroft (Lecturer in
Selling Your Father’s Bones. By
Brian Schofield, Harper Press, 2008 including a full set of Gustave Public Policy)
Doré and Henry Mayhew prints, No: Richard Headicar (Socialist Party)
as well as fascinating and detailed Brockway Room, Conway Hall, Red Lion
This is a Booth’s poverty map, is excellent Square, London WC1
fascinating and well worth seeing. Sadly
account of nothing so complimentary can be Manchester
the fate of Nez said about the modern material. Monday 27 April, 8.30 pm
Perce (rhymes Where not dominated by slickly
Discussion on Class
with Fez Purse) produced but impersonal graphs and
Unicorn, Church Street, City Centre
people of the charts, it is crude, amateurish and
north west of incomprehensible.
the USA and However, it is not simply a Capitalism in Crisis: A May
their land. difference in style but a difference in
It uses the message. Despite the statement by
Day School for Socialism
the organisers that “Rank, Situation, Saturday 2 May 10.30am till 6.00pm
narrative of
the desperate 1877 flight from their Class and Hierarchy are still with The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High
old homeland in the Wallowa valley us” the message of the moderns Street SW4 7UN Tube: Clapham North
towards exile in Canada, as a means is nothing of the sort. Instead of
to describe the exploitation and near the notion of social class - us and Is the profit system working?
destruction of the West through them, whether for good or bad –
a particularly rapacious form of butchly depicted by the traditional 1. Capitalism & Economics - Brian
capitalism. The industrial pollution material, we are presented with Gardner (Glasgow Socialist Party)
(the mile wide purple pit of Butte, mere economic inequality – a range 2. Capitalism, Resources and the
Montana, is very memorable) and of economic states from the long Environment - Gwynn Thomas ( South
destructive agriculture are vividly term unemployed (17.5 percent of London Socialist Party)
depicted. As a history of a “Native the population apparently) to the
3. Capitalism & Society - Simon Wigley
American” group, it is especially professional or manager. The slogan
useful as it brings the subject right (Central London Socialist Party).
“No Them - Only Us” prominently
up to date – an annoying feature of displayed in “Rank” becomes one of
books of this nature is the close of ersatz social inclusion, a brushing Food and Refreshments will be available:
the narrative at the loss of political over of the real divisions between
independence, usually deep in the owner and owned, a con job which
nineteenth century. The contrast no recipient of a wage, pension or Public debate
between the desolation left after the dole - payments from our masters - between the Anarchist Federation and
death of the settler’s dream (the scary should take in. the Socialist Party:
empty landscapes of No Country for Class is not a moral issue of “What are the similarities and differences
Old Men) and the relative success inequality as depicted here but a between the Socialist Party and Anarchist
of the communitarian Nez Perce social question of ownership and positions?”
rewards the reader with vicarious control, whose effects are not just
pleasures and hints towards the very University of East Anglia
poverty in the narrow economic
real benefits, both economic and Saturday 30th May, 2 - 5pm
sense but have echoes throughout
social, which socialism will bring. more details to follow.
society: the machine-like, distorted
KAZ nature of work – the hellish grind we
Picture Credits call wage slavery, the degradation of Lothians Discussion Group
cover: Monopoly - © 2005 Zzubnik,
family and social life; the subjection (under the auspices of the Socialist
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
to the tyranny of the state power; Party Edinburgh Branch)
Harriet Harman - © 2009 Steve Punter
above all, the sense that life under Venue: ACE, 17 West Montgomery
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike capitalism is not a full human one Place, Edinburgh
2.0 but one in which the worker is Every 4th Wednesday of the Month
p4: Darwin statue - www.nhm.ac.uk reduced to a unit of production and Time: 7.30pm-9.00pm
p18: Ubuntu desktop - Ubuntu.com consumption. Contact:
p24: Shandon House - © 2007 George The reduction of class to Fraser Anderson: Fraser@prolerat.org
Rankin, Creative Commons Attribution mere economic inequality – the Jimmy Moir: jimmy@prolerat.org
ShareAlike 2.0 patronising image of the starving
little black baby and the ►22
Socialist Standard April 2009 21

April 09 bdh.indd 21 23/3/09 12:24:45

single mother living on baked beans knows was written by Marx and
(which thankfully we were saved Engels (the latter possibly having a
from in “Rank”) – minimises and larger contribution). It accompanies
marginalises the results of class a Dyson cartoon depicting John
divided capitalist society. Without Bull happily dancing to Master
the knowledge of class as a social Capitalism’s tune. Given his well
relationship with real personal known interest in class struggle -
effects, the worst of which we can resistance to the gay dance – this
mitigate through collective action doesn’t really show much respect to
called the class struggle, the socialist Chucky does it?
movement would becomes little more “Rank” is on display at the Leeds
than a charity. Art Gallery until 26 April, then at the
Particularly irritating in “Rank” Northern Gallery for Contemporary
was the obligatory Karl Marx Arts in Sunderland from 15 May to
quotation. The Big Beard’ s works 11 July, and finally at the Grundy Art
are literally crammed with punchy Gallery, Blackpool from 24 July to 5
one liners yet this is a (deliberately?) September.
dull and long winded quote from The KAZ
Communist Manifesto, which as even
the dumbest social science graduate

More Trouble in Africa

When the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was set groups, or racial, national, religious and language barriers.
up in 1953, it was known to be against the wishes of most of And because it has happened so often we have plenty of
the African population in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia. information about its consequences: nobody need please
They did not want to be taken out of the control of the British ignorance.
Colonial Office to be handed over to domination by the white What then has national independence done for the
settlers, whose attitude, as shown particularly in Southern mass of the population, whether we take the European
Rhodesia, is much like that of the South African Government. nationalist movements of last century, such as the Italian
Opponents of Federation, including the British Labour Party, struggle against Austria or the Balkan countries’ struggles
foresaw that tension would increase and were not surprised against Turkey, or the quite recent new States set up in
by the recent disturbances in which a number of Africans were former Colonies? Without going into details we can say that
killed by Government forces. Among the Africans the idea of national independence is good for local politicians, lawyers,
early independence for Nyasaland has been given a powerful army officers, manufacturers and business men; it opens
stimulus, associated by some of them with more ambitious up careers and money-making opportunities for them, as
ideas of a wider nationalism, taking in all Africa. also for local holders of government civilian posts who may
Are they right? Will “independence” make them better have found their advancement hindered while a foreign
off and happier? Their African leaders tell them there is no administration had control. Sometimes the achievement
doubt about the matter. And it is quite obvious that most of national independence helps to speed up industrial
Africans would prefer to put up with a lot of inconvenience, development where this has been deliberately limited by the
even hardship, to escape living under a government which governing Power and may make it rather easier for workers
operates or tolerates a colour bar against them. Africans are to form trade unions.
only behaving like other people, for history is full of examples (From front page article by ‘H’, Socialist Standard, April
of resentment of, and revolt against, the imposition on subject 1959)

Declaration of Principles
This declaration is the basis of by the capitalist or master class, the emancipation of the working 7.That as all political parties
our organisation and, because and the consequent enslavement class wil involve the emancipation are but the expression of class
it is also an important historical of the working class, by whose of all mankind, without distinction interests, and as the interest of
document dating from the labour alone wealth is produced. of race or sex. the working class is diametrically
formation of the party in 1904, opposed to the interests of all
its original language has been 2.That in society, therefore, there 5. That this emancipation must sections of the master class,
retained. is an antagonism of interests, be the work of the working class the party seeking working class
manifesting itself as a class itself. emancipation must be hostile to
Object struggle between those who every other party.
The establishment of a system possess but do not produce and 6.That as the machinery of
of society based upon the those who produce but do not government, including the armed 8.The Socialist Party of Great
common ownership and possess. forces of the nation, exists only Britain, therefore, enters the field
democratic control of the to conserve the monopoly by the of political action determined
means and instruments for 3.That this antagonism can capitalist class of the wealth taken to wage war against all other
producing and distributing be abolished only by the from the workers, the working political parties, whether alleged
wealth by and in the interest of emancipation of the working class class must organize consciously labour or avowedly capitalist,
the whole community. from the domination of the master and politically for the conquest and calls upon the members of
class, by the conversion into the of the powers of government, the working class of this country
Declaration of Principles common property of society of national and local, in order that to muster under its banner to the
The Socialist Party of Great the means of production and this machinery, including these end that a speedy termination
Britain holds distribution, and their democratic forces, may be converted from an may be wrought to the system
control by the whole people. instrument of oppression into the which deprives them of the fruits
1.That society as at present agent of emancipation and the of their labour, and that poverty
constituted is based upon the 4.That as in the order of social overthrow of privilege, aristocratic may give place to comfort,
ownership of the means of living evolution the working class is the and plutocratic. privilege to equality, and slavery
(i.e., land, factories, railways, etc.) last class to achieve its freedom, to freedom.

22 Socialist Standard April 2009

April 09 bdh.indd 22 23/3/09 12:24:46

The Rise and rise of “Harperson”

fter the next election, spare a thought for those when she won a by-election in Peckham. Her wilder
whose job is to analyse and interpret the result indiscretions looked to be further tamed when, in 1984,
– especially those who must point out, among she was raised to the opposition front bench, speaking
the national assumption that the votes have led to on social services, health and then Treasury matters.
an effective, much needed change in society, that all After Labour’s 1997 victory Blair put her in charge of the
that has happened is the substitution of one set of misnamed Department for Social Security but she was
reactionary prejudices for another. Consider, for example, sacked after a little more than one year; fulfilling her brief
the matter of Harriet Harman and all that is thereby to “reform” the system she had cut the benefit of lone
implied. She emerged into the political universe in the parents but – perhaps more crucially – she had crossed
guise of a feminist so revolutionary and steadfast that swords too often with junior minister Frank Field.
one wit could suggest it would be more consistent with
her proclaimed principles if she changed her surname Iraq
to Harperson. This piece of pedestrian humour harked Proving that she has the resilience essential to anyone
back to the times when anyone observing the House with ambitions to claw their way up the greasy pole,
of Commons benches (and even more so those in Harman quickly bounced back; in June 2001 she became
The Other Place) could be understood for remarking Solicitor General – the first woman to hold the job. Since
that the only possible government must be over- then she has risen steadily, leaving behind her female
weighted with mature, wealthy, overbearing males. rivals such as Hazel Blears and Caroline Flint. This is
From that observation it was only a short, if unlikely to have happened without her demonstrating a
misdirected, step in logic to the conclusion that the uncritical readiness to support the government policy on
problems – poverty, lack of proper housing, social matters such as the “anti-terrorist” laws, the imposition
alienation, war – of current society must spring from of identity cards, the renewal of Trident. She also voted
that prescribed composition of the occupants of the seats for the invasion of Iraq – which caused her considerable
of power. And from that position it was tolerable – if discomfort later when she appeared to have changed her
not sustainable – to argue that the only certain remedy mind. Responding to a question from Jeremy Paxman
for those ills was to elect governments weighted with on Newsnight she confessed: “If I’d have known if there
younger, less monied, more dynamic females. Which weren’t weapons of mass destruction I wouldn’t have
returns us, abruptly, to the matter of Harriet Harman voted for the war. Clearly it was a mistake”. However this
– Chair and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Leader was no unconditional conversion because she did not
of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal, Minister for keep to her implied promise when agreeing with Paxman
Women and Equality, QC – and hovering contender for that the Labour Party should apologise for the attack. In
the Party leadership in the event that anything should any case this was all much too late to save the buildings
“happen” to Gordon Brown – like being ditched by wiped out by the missiles and the bombs and the tens
Labour after too emphatic an electoral defeat. of thousands of people who had been killed. But it was
well timed for Harman’s campaign for the Labour Deputy
Family Leadership, after her own poll had persuaded her that the
Harman is very much a product of the traditionally public favoured her above the other candidates.
well-heeled Labour political families with connections
significant enough to encourage party members to Goodwin
feel comfortingly patronised by them. (Although what Labour MPs in the Commons are often driven to a
this does for the patronisers is, of course, a matter for restless embarrassment at Harman’s performance when
speculation). In her background are to be found the Gordon Brown is away and she takes over at Prime
Earl of Longford, Lady Antonia Fraser and, earlier, Ministers Questions. This is not a time for the considered,
some of the Chamberlain family who once dominated meticulously argued response; the MPs want something
Conservative politics. True to this tradition, Harman was to make them jeer and wave their order papers. It does
for five years the legal officer of the National Council for not help to have Harman fumbling and stuttering, for
Civil Liberties (now Liberty); in that capacity, on the example when she said that Fred Goodwin, the
Grunwick picket line, she met her husband. In 1981 sacked ex-boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland,
(this seems hardly believable now, were it not that was awarded a knighthood for his work
for a politician everything is to be believed) she for charity when, as any City wide-boy
rebelled against the “royalist orgy” of Prince knows, it was for “services” to banking.
Charles’ marriage to Diana Spencer by joining The same can be said when she, a
with Peter Mandelson and others on a cross- solicitor and a QC, announced that
Channel ferry for a republican protest away the government would stop Goodwin
day in France. “We were a happy band, we collecting the pension awarded him by
had a great deal of fun” the then editor of the bank he wrecked, in spite of the
the New Statesman assured us. But this fact that to do so would be illegal. But
kind of behaviour had to be curbed soon these are only incidents in Harman’s
afterwards – in October 1982 Harman drive for the top, in which she is ready
joined the other Honourable Members to attempt to conceal all unhelpful facts
who had fawned so loyally and bend any others.
over the doomed IVAN
royal couple Harriet Harman

Socialist Standard April 2009 23

April 09 bdh.indd 23 23/3/09 12:24:46

Homeless And Clueless eighth biggest economy, has been hit by Capitalist Priorities
Politicians of all the major political parties the housing crisis, unemployment and Despite the economic crisis in the US
have “solutions” for what they call the falling consumer spending. ..California the government recently announced
“homeless problem”. In fact there is no has already laid off state workers for two an increase in its military budget. “The
homeless problem, what we have is a days a month, put 2,000 public projects collision of modern American life with
poverty problem. Here is a recent press on hold and delayed tax refunds.” (BBC the worst financial crisis since the Great
story that shows that there are plenty of News, 17 February) Inside the real world Depression has had some strange
empty houses and unintended consequences. In
available if you Shandon House, MOD owned, 10 years empty Alpine, Utah, for example, a school has
have the money. cancelled the entire 6th grade, with
“The number the teachers at Mountainville Academy
of properties dismissed just before Christmas and
in Britain lying the 12-year-olds merged with the 7th
empty is set to grade.” (Times, 21 February) That is
pass 1 million. the priorities of capitalism - keep up
New figures will military expenditure to protect the owning
show that Britain class’s markets and sources of raw
is on course for materials, but sack teachers and worsen
a record number the education of workers’ children.
of houses and
flats lying empty. The Wasteful Society
Some of the In the most developed capitalist society
rise has been on Earth we learn of this horror story.
caused by home “The US jobless rate jumped in February
owners facing to 8.1%, according to official figures from
repossession. Other empty homes of capitalism Schwartzenegger has had the Labor Department. The number of
were bought by property developers to play the villain by terminating many people out of work rose by 651,000 during
who have since struggled to raise the workers’ means of earning a living. the month. Both figures were bigger
money to renovate and furbish them than expected. ...President Obama said
for occupation.” (Daily Telegraph, 10 Labour In Action that the number of jobs lost so far in the
February) Inside this crazy social system The World Bank recently estimated recession was “astounding”. Speaking in
fish are dumped back in to the sea, fruit is that 2.8 million children could die by Ohio, he added: “I don’t need to tell the
allowed to rot on the trees while millions 2015 if the global financial crisis is not people of this state what statistics like
of people starve, so it comes as no checked. Commenting on this the Prime this mean,” saying that he had signed his
surprise to learn that people in Britain go Minister Gordon Brown said: “It is as if economic stimulus package in order to
homeless while 1 million homes lie empty. the entire population of Rome were to save jobs. The extra 161,000 jobs added
die in the next five years.” (Times, 21 to December and January’s figures mean
The Terminator February) This from the leader of the that almost two million jobs have been lost
In the movies Arnold Schwarzenegger Labour Party who vigorously defends in the past three months.” (BBC News,
often played the hero, but in real life he the killer society that is the buying and 6 March) Think what this means, two
has had to bow to the realities of the selling of capitalism. Hypocrisy cannot million workers are being debarred from
capitalist system that has slumps and go further surely when Gordon Brown producing things that are necessary for
booms undreamed of in the Hollywood suspends parliament debate because human existence. Why? Because it isn’t
fantasy land. “Cash-strapped California is of the death of the child of one of his profitable enough. Two million workers
to start notifying 20,000 state workers that opponents in a vote-catching move. He and their kids are being impoverished not
they may lose their jobs. A spokesman will not of course suspend the running because of some failing on their part but
for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of capitalism or its parliament over the because of this awful society we all live
made the announcement after California possible death of 2.8 million kids. in. Don’t you think it is time that those
lawmakers failed to approve a $40bn 2 million workers in the US thought of
(£28.2bn) budget. California, the world’s an alternative society? Shouldn’t you?

24 0037 8259 Socialist Standard April 2009
Produced and published by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN

April 09 bdh.indd 24 23/3/09 12:24:47