Tuesday, June 28, 2011

state sector pensions

Public sector workers are facing changes to their pensions which, for most, will mean paying more in contributions and working longer. The annual cost of servicing the state sector schemes, as a share of GDP on reasonable assumptions about rising life expectancy and future growth in earnings and contributions, that is projected to rise from 1.7% of GDP today to 1.9% in 2018-19, before falling back to 1.7% by 2059-60. Local government pension scheme presently costs every household around 5p in every £1 paid in council tax.

Some experts say best advice might be to expand the public-sector workforce and massively increase their pay. In five years' time, public-sector pensions probably wouldn't "cost" the government anything at all. In fact, the Treasury might even be making a profit. This is what happened in the NHS over the past decade - pay and employment shot up. The result was that the "cost" of their pension scheme disappeared. In 2008-9 the NHS pension scheme ran a big surplus: it paid in £2.1bn more to the Treasury than it paid out. Over the next five years, the NHS pension scheme will actually provide a surplus to the Treasury of over £10 billion

Already changes have been made. First, the age at which a scheme member could draw a full pension was increased from 60 to 65 years for new members. Second, employee contributions were increased by 0.4% of pay for teachers and by up to 2.5% of pay for NHS staff. Third, a new cost-sharing and capping mechanism was introduced to transfer, from employers to employees, extra costs that arise if pensioners live longer than previously expected. The Commons Public Accounts Committee on the basis of evidence from HM Treasury and the Department of Health is concerned the Treasury did not test the potential impact of changes in some of the key assumptions underpinning the long-term cost projections. Indexing pensions to the Consumer Prices Index rather than the Retail Prices Index is expected to reduce costs further. The committee also heard concerns that the discount rate used to set pension contribution levels was too high. A lower discount rate leads to higher contributions from employees and employers, reducing the long-term cost of pension schemes.

In the 1990s, Britons had more saved in private pensions than the rest of Europe combined, mostly in company schemes. There was so much cash around that firms were taking pension “holidays” because their schemes were in surplus. But Gordon Brown couldn’t keep his hands off this money pot, and from 1997 he syphoned off £5bn a year by abolishing dividend tax reliefs. Then, in the noughties, a collision of factors trashed private sector pensions: interest rates fell, the stock market collapses ( the FTSE is still 25% down on ten years ago.) and inflation returned. The current policy of near zero interest rates has been devastating to all savers. Inflation erodes the value of any savings, whether in a private pension or a building society account by around 5% a year. There used to be many more final salary pensions in the private sector - indeed, public sector pensions were originally modelled on the best practice of great British companies of old, like BP, ICI, GEC. These firms used final salary pensions to attract and hold on to experienced staff. But with globalisation, the collapse of stock markets, and the neurotic search for ‘shareholder value’, corporate Britain came under increasing pressure through the 80’s and 90’s. The old career structures were broken up and pensions scrapped in favour of “money purchase schemes” in which employees are left to the vagaries of the stock market.


why unionize

From 1947 through about 1978, wages and benefits for rank-and-file workers grew roughly in tandem with the overall productivity of the U.S. economy: both more than doubled over that period. Between 1979 and 2007, productivity shot up by another 70 percent. But compensation for the American rank and file hardly moved, inching up only 5 percent, after factoring in inflation. In recent decades, only the elite—those in the top tenth of income distribution—saw their real earnings keep pace with gains in productivity. By the end of the previous economic expansion, in 2000, the median American family earned about $61,000 annually, after accounting for inflation. In 2007, before the economy turned down again, the median family had seen its earnings contract to $60,500. The median inflation-adjusted earnings of men working full-time in 2005 were slightly lower than they had been in 1973. For the first time since the government began keeping records more than a half century earlier, an expansion had ended, with most Americans effectively sliding backward. During the same general period, corporate profits as a percentage of national income swelled close to the highest level in sixty years. Organized labor is relatively weak now, but for more than a century it has been the most important force for positive economic reforms in the United States, from the eight-hour work day, to health insurance and Medicare, social security, pensions and minimum wages.

At the end of the twenties, the American union movement was in retreat. By 1930 only a bit more than 10 percent of nonagricultural workers were unionized, a number roughly comparable to the unionized share of private-sector workers today. But by the end of World War II more than a third of non-farm workers were members of unions—and many others were paid wages that were set either to match union wages or to keep workers happy enough to forestall union organizers. In the 1950s America was a nation in which organized labor played a powerful, visible role. America's unionization rate was higher than that of Canada, Italy, or France. In 1960, Canada and the US had approximately the same percentage of unionized wage and salary workers (at 31%). By 1999, The US's percentage was down to 13.5% while Canada 's was stable at 32.6%.
The sources of union decline in America lie not in market forces but in the political climate created by movement conservatism, which allowed employers to engage in union-busting activities and punish workers for supporting union organizers. Without that changed political climate, much of the service economy—especially giant retailers like Wal-Mart—would probably be unionized today. Business interests, which seemed to have reached an accommodation with the labor movement in the 1960s, went on the offensive against unions beginning in the 1970s. And we're…talking about hardball tactics, often including the illegal firing of workers who tried to organize or supported union activity. During the late seventies and early eighties at least one in every twenty workers who voted for a union was illegally fired; some estimates put the number as high as one in eight. The collapse of the U.S. union movement has no comparison in any other Western nation. Undermining and destroying collective bargaining rights is one of the most important structural reforms that any right-wing government in a developed country can win.
Much if not most of the anti-union activity that led to the sharp decline in American unionization was illegal even under existing law. But employers judged, correctly, that they could get away with it.The sharpest increases in wage inequality in the Western world have taken place in the United States and in Britain, both of which experienced sharp declines in union membership. Imagine how different worker pay would be in the US if Wal-Mart employees were part of a union that could demand higher wages and better benefits. While retail prices might be slightly higher the retail giant wouldn't go out of business—and the American middle income earners would have several hundred thousand additional members.


Some NEST-egg!!

Millions of pensioners are having their weekly income wiped out by basic bills, without a single penny to spare, research revealed yesterday. A typical couple receives a weekly income of £207.15 - but will spend £207.24 on food, fuel, housing and transport, it said. This is before they have spent any money on the long list of other costs, such as a new pair of shoes, a holiday or a present for a grandchild.

Half of workers do not know they could soon be automatically enrolled into a Government-run pension scheme if they are not in a works pension already. From October next year, employers who do not already offer a company pension to staff will have to offer the Government's new savings scheme, known as Nest (National Employment Savings Trust). Unless workers ask to opt out, and provided they are over the age of 22 and earning at least £7,475, they will have money deducted from their salary each month to go into Nest. It means that from next year, someone earning £22,000 a year, and eligible to save via Nest, will see £56 deducted from their monthly pay. Nest is clearly going to take a few people by surprise,' says Ian Martin, director at HSBC.

What also will come as more of a shock is that around 40 per cent of bosses will cut or freeze their workers’ salaries when new pension rules are introduced next year, a report warns today. The rules will force every boss in Britain to pay into a company pension for each of their workers for the first time in history. They will be required to pay the equivalent of at least 3 per cent of a workers’ salary into a pension. But the report, from the Institute of Directors warns employees’ salaries could be ‘hit’ as bosses resort to desperate measures to try to recover the money lost on the extra pensions bill. When asked how they will find the money, 33 per cent said they plan to ‘freeze’ salaries and 9 per cent said they will ‘decrease salaries.’

And for those already in a works' pension, the UK's 6,533 defined benefit pensions, including final salary schemes, had a collective surplus of just £2.3 billion at the end of April, down from one of £45.5 billion in March. New accounting rule slashed £43billion off pension funds - because of worries that we are living too long. If the accounting assumptions had not been changed, pension funds would have ended the month £37.2 billion in the black. The accounting shake-up came despite the fact that the total value of schemes' assets rose by 1.5 per cent to £1.003 trillion during the month on the back of stock market gains. The overall rise in life expectancy is being driven by fewer people taking up smoking, and healthier lifestyles in general.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Common Good

Why is it that capitalism has accumulated more resources than human history has ever witnessed, yet appears powerless to overcome povertyand starvation? What are the mechanisms by which affluence for a minority seems to breed hardship and indignity for the many? Why does wealth seem to go hand in hand with squalor? Is there is something in the nature of capitalism which generates deprivation and inequality. Capitalism has developed human powers and capacities beyond all previous measure. Yet it had not used those capacities to set men and women free of fruitless toil. On the contrary, it had forced them to labour harder than ever. We sweat every bit as hard as our ancestors. This, Karl Marx considered, was not because of natural scarcity. It was because of the peculiarly contradictory way in which the capitalist system generated its fabulous wealth. Equality for some meant inequality for others, and freedom for some brought oppression and unhappiness for many. The system's voracious pursuit of power and profit had turned foreign nations into enslaved colonies, and human beings into the playthings of economic forces beyond their control. It had blighted the planet with pollution and mass starvation, and scarred it with atrocious wars.

Were not Marx's ideas responsible for despotism, mass murder, labour camps and the loss of freedom for millions? The truth is that Marx was no more responsible for the monstrous oppression of the "communist" world than Jesus was responsible for the Inquisition. Marx would have scorned the idea that socialism could take root in impoverished, backward societies like Russia and China. If it did, then the result would simply be what he called "generalised scarcity," by which he means that everyone would now be deprived, not just the poor. It would mean a re-cycling of "the old filthy business"—or, in less tasteful translation, "the same old shit." Marxism is a theory of how developed capitalist nations might use their immense resources to achieve prosperity for their people. It is not a programme by which countries totally bereft of material resources, a democratic civic culture and heritage, or a skilled, educated work force might catapult themselves into the modern age. Marx was not foolish enough to imagine that socialism could be built in such countries without more-advanced nations flying to their aid. And that meant that the common people of those advanced nations had to wrest the means of production from their rulers and place them at the service of the wretched of the earth. Marx's goal is leisure, not labour.

Marx was not some utopian. He believed that the world could be made a considerably better place. In this he was a realist, not an idealist. Those with their heads in the sand are those who deny that there can be any radical change. The whole of human history disproves this viewpoint. A man who witnessed the horrors of England in the midst of the industrial revolution was unlikely to be starry-eyed about his fellows . He undrstood that there are more than enough resources on the planet to resolve most of our material problems. Socialism does not depend on some miraculous change in human nature.

The way we go about our business, the way we are organised in our daily life is reflected in the way we think about things and the sort of world we created. The institutions we build, the philosophies we adhere to, the prevailing ideas of the time, the culture of society, are all determined to some extent or another by the economic structure of society. This did not mean that they were totally determined but were quite clearly a spin-off from the economic base of society. The political system, the legal system, the family, the press, the education system were all rooted, in the final analysis, to the class nature of society, which in turn was a reflection of the economic base. Marx maintained that the economic base or infrastructure generated or had built upon it a superstructure that kept it functioning. The education system, as part of the superstructure, therefore, is a reflection of the economic base and served to reproduce it. This did not mean that education and teaching is a sinister plot by the ruling class to ensure that it kept its privileges and its domination over the rest of the population. There are no conspirators hatching devious schemes. It simply means that the institutions of society, like education, are reflections of the world created by human activity and that ideas arise from and reflect the material conditions and circumstances in which they are generated. Some of those who defended feudalism against capitalist values in the late Middle Ages preached that capitalism would never work because it was contrary to human nature. Some capitalists now say the same about socialism. No doubt there is a tribe somewhere in the Amazon Basin that believes no social order can survive in which a man is allowed to marry his deceased brother's wife. We all tend to absolutise our own conditions.

Marx explained that "each new class which puts itself in the place of the one ruling before it, is compelled, simply in order to achieve its aims, to represent its interest as the common interest of all members of society i.e. ..to give its ideas the form of universality and to represent them as the only rational and universally valid ones". Ideas become presented as if they are universal, neutral, common sense. However, more subtly, we find concepts such as freedom, democracy, liberty or phrases such as "a fair days work for a fair days pay" being bandied around by opinion makers as if they were not contentious. They are, in Marxist terms, ideological constructs, in so far as they are ideas serving as weapons for social interests. They are put forward for people to accept in order to prop up the system. Ideas are not neutral. They are determined by the existing relations of production, by the economic structure of society. Ideas change according to the interests of the dominant class in society. Gramsci coined the phrase "ideological hegemony" to describe the influence the ruling class has over what counts as knowledge. For Marxists, this hegemony is exercised through institutions such as education, or the media. Again the important thing to note about this is that it is not to be regarded as part of a conspiracy by the ruling class. It is a natural effect of the way in which what we count as knowledge is socially constructed. The ideology of democracy and liberty, beliefs about freedom of the individual and competition are generated historically by the mode of production through the agency of the dominant class. They are not neutral ideas serving the common good but ruling class ideas accepted by everyone as if they were for the common good.

Marx was against people setting themselves up as superior to ‘ordinary’ workers, as if they and only they had the ability, foresight and knowledge to discern what socialist society would be like. This elitism had no place in the socialist movement for Marx. Marx was keen to emphasise the creativity and spontaneity of the drive towards socialism, and to chart and assess the practical experiments of workers in this endeavour. Thus, for example, he enthusiastically followed the course of and wrote about the Paris Commune of 1871, where workers’ power was manifested in novel and exciting ways. The tragedy of labour is that we labour to create a vast, global social structure powered by capital (which depends upon us for its existence) that oppresses us, and limits and constrains human and social possibilities. We work to build our own cages. The struggle for communism is both the struggle against the constraints and limitations of capitalist social life and for a new form of human society. Alienation, boredom, the length of the working day, and so on can be key issues. Explaining the mode of exploitation in the capitalist labour process would be essential – how it is that value and surplus value are produced. The exploration of the perverted form of human life in capitalist society, and the ways that human life is being capitalised (the human as a form of capital – human capital). Any ‘anti-capitalist’ revolution worthy of the name would have to break with the totalising and all-consuming ‘logic’ of capital from day one of any revolutionary transformation. The ‘education of the future’ is part of the struggle for a new society

Marx believed in the uniqueness of the individual. The idea permeates his writings from end to end. He had a passion for the sensual. His so-called materialism is at root about the human body. Again and again, he speaks of the just society as one in which men and women will be able to realize their distinctive powers and capacities in their own distinctive ways. His goal is pleasurable self-fulfillment. To achieve true self-fulfillment, human beings must find it in and through one another. It is not just a question of each doing his or her own thing in grand isolation from others. That would not even be possible. The other must become the ground of one's own self-realization, at the same time as he or she provides the condition for one's own. At the interpersonal level, this is known as love. At the political level, it is known as socialism, a set of institutions which will allow this reciprocity to happen to the greatest possible extent, a socialist commonwealth, in which each person's participation in the project augments the welfare of all the others, and vice versa. This is not a question of some saintly self-sacrifice. The process is built into the structure of the institutions.

Monday, June 20, 2011

united we stand

In Ireland the Duffy-Walsh review of employment regulation and agreements was a comprehensive study (supported by 36 independent economists) on the interactive effects of sectoral based minimum wages, competitiveness and employment. Most of this research concludes that cutting minimum wages and abolishing wage-setting institutions has zero impact on employment creation. It simply serves to increase the profit of employers who rarely, if ever, reinvest this into employment expansion.

The idea that removing institutions of collective bargaining will improve or increase employment is based on the assumption of “perfectly competitive labour markets”. These do not exist. Currently, 80 per cent of employees in the Eurozone have their pay and conditions set by collective bargaining. In Sweden, Austria, Finland or Netherlands, it is more than 90 per cent of employees who have their wages set by collective negotiation between trade unions and employers.

AIDAN REGAN, Guest PhD at the Amsterdam Institute for Labour Studies, University of Amsterdam,

MPs Pensions Gravy Train

Both Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs had, before the General Election, emphasised their belief that MPs pensions were too generous and should be reformed. What has actually happened since the election? They raised the retirement age for women and men to 66. As a result 4.5 million will have to wait longer than expected before they can pick up their state pension. Some women will receive their state pension almost two years later than they had expected.

What about the reforms to their own MP pensions? They continue to reward them with up to one fortieth of their final salary for every year’s service if they contribute 11.9 per cent of their salary. This reduces to one fiftieth if they pay in 7.9 per cent and one sixtieth if they pay in 5.9 per cent. An MP could work for just 15 years and build up a £24,000 pension, based on his salary of £65,738. A worker in the private sector would have to build up a pension pot of £700,000 over a lifetime to get the same income at age 65. MPs’ spouses also receive generous benefits when their husband or wife dies – including a lump-sum worth four times their annual salary and an income of five eights of their pension. In 2008 the state contribute three times more to MPs pensions than its members did themselves.

MPs are still discussing recommendations made by the Senior Salaries Review Board last summer. This recommended moving from a final salary pension to a less generous one based on career average, and increasing MPs’ pension age from 65 to 68. It also said their pension should be built up more slowly. By dilly-dallying over reforming their own pensions while taking swift and punitive measure over everyone else’s (including replacing the RPI link with CPI) MPs have revealed once again that whatever their political colours their prime cause is feathering their own nest. The hypocrisy of our MPs would appear to know no bounds.

Consider Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, who criticised the teachers. Maude has claimed £35,000 in mortgage interest payments on a London flat complete with 24-hour concierge and gym . This is close to a house he already owned. He also boasts a house in the country and one in France. His personal net wealth is estimated at £3m. Despite this, during a discussion on Newsnight on 22 October 2010 he argued that a 5% cut to his £65,738 salary was equal to the 'pain' suffered by Britain's poor. He worked in banking as Managing Director at Morgan Stanley from 1993 to 1997. He was also appointed a non-executive director of ASDA Group Plc in July 1992, and served as a director of Salomon Brothers from 1992 to 1993.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

War Communism !!

War had a big impact on the world’s food. Before the Second World War Britain imported approximately 55 million tonnes, or 3/4 of the country's food by ship each year. In England and Wales arable acreage was about 9 million; whereas 16 million acres were under grass and a further 5 ½ million was “rough grazing” (once reasonable pasture). One acre of permanent grass (for animal fodder) fed 1 or 2 people; one acre sown with wheat fed 20 people; and one acre sown with potatoes fed 40 people.

About one million directly employed in the production of food, and most of those part-time, seasonal workers. Increasingly, those men who worked on farms would need to be called up into the armed forces (50,000 skilled farm workers were absorbed by the armed forces in the first two years), so farmers were to be faced not only with enormous challenges in terms of increased food production targets but also a shortage of experienced labour. The Women’s Land Army were established at the beginning of the Second World War with numbers rising to 80000 by 1944.

War Agricultural Committees were formed immediately on the outbreak of war . They were leading farmers and nurserymen, with a good knowledge of local conditions, who had volunteered, unpaid, to help in the campaign to get full production from the land in their particular county. These Executive Committees, numbering eight to twelve members,Ministry of Agriculture propaganda poster predominantly farmers, were given delegated powers by the Minister under the wartime Defence Regulations. There was usually at least one landowner, one representative from the farm workers and one woman representing the Women’s Land Army. They formed Sub-Committees to cover different aspects of work, and District Committees to ensure that there was at least one Committee member in touch with every farmer, up to say 50 or 60, in his area of 5000 acres. Later, some District Committees embraced a representative from every parish. The role was to tell farmers what was required of them in the way of wheat, potatoes, sugar beet or other priority crops, and to help the farmers to get what they needed in the way of machinery, fertilisers and so on to achieve the targets which were set them. The Sub-Committees covered the following concerns: Cultivations, Labour, Machinery and Land Drainage, Technical Development, Feeding Stuffs, Insects and Pests, Horticulture, Financial and General Purposes, Goods and Services and War Damage. The Committees employed paid officers such as the Executive Officer and assistants in each county and District Officers to keep the show running smoothly in every locality. Technical Officers were also employed to advise farmers about such matters as the lime requirements of their soils, the making of silage, the treatments of soil pests, the care of machinery and the improvement of livestock. Farmers could get expert advice free, which contributed enormously to increase the output that farmers achieved.

The writer Laurie Lee, working for the Ministry of Information, summed this up in Land at War, the official story of British farming 1939 – 1944

“From Whitehall to every farm in the country the C.W.A.E.C.s formed a visible human chain which grew stronger with each year of the war. Here, roughly, is the way it worked. The Government might say to the Minister of Agriculture: ‘We need so much home-grown food next year’. The Minister assured himself that the labour, tractors, equipment, and so on, would be forthcoming, and said to the Chairman of a County Committee: ‘We’ve got to plough two million acres next year. The quota for your county is 40,000’.
The Chairman said to his District Committee Chairman: ‘You’ve been scheduled for 5,000 acres’.
The Committee-man said to his Parish Representative: ‘You’ve got to find 800 acres, then’.
And the Parish Representative, who knew every yard of the valley, went to the farmer at the end of the lane.
‘Bob,’ he said, ‘how about that 17.acre field – for wheat?’
And Farmer Bob said, ‘Aye’’.”

The idea of having County “War Ags” was to make the task of mediating central dictates from national government more palatable by using well-respected local farmers to convey the war needs to farmers who knew them. Even so, when particular farmers failed to co-operate with this more democratic system, Orders were served on them requiring them to plough up their grassland, or to grow given acreages of various crops, to clean out their ditches and drains, or apply adequate quantities of fertilisers. In the worst cases, recalcitrant or incompetent farmers – after first attempting to encourage and help them with advice and expertise – could be removed from their farms, by the dictate of the Minister of Agriculture, and their land farmed by someone else who would use the land to better advantage.

In addition to the supervision of work done by private farmers, the County Committees, known colloquially as “War Ags”, farmed areas of land themselves, particularly those farms and areas of derelict land which no individual was willing to tackle properly. The clearing of derelict land and the drainage of wet lands were two of those difficult jobs on which many land girls were employed, particularly from 1942 onwards, when conscription brought in increased numbers of young women members of the Women’s Land Army. Many of these were employed directly by the “War Ags” and housed, as mobile labour gangs, in hostels located around each county. In addition, summer work camps set up by the “War Ags” accommodated thousands of men and women, industrial and clerical workers from Britain’s towns and cities, who volunteered to do paid work during their summer holidays, to help bring in the harvest.

Nationally, some 6 ½ million new acres were ploughed up between 1939 and 1944. Harvests of wheat, barley and potatoes increased by over 100%; milking cows increased by 300,000; other cattle by 400,000. This was at the expense of fewer sheep, pigs and poultry but enabled the country to completely reverse its reliance on foreign food. In terms of calories, the net output had been quadrupled by 1943-44. By the end of the war, food imports had been reduced from 22 million to 11 million tons and Britain was producing well over 60% of its food. This was despite losing nearly 100,000 skilled male farm workers, who went off to fight, and thanks to the 117,000 women who replaced them. From 815,000 allotments in 1939 the number rose to 1,400,000 by 1943. allotments were estimated to contribute some 1.3 million tonnes of food produce.

Consumer goods of all kinds became scarce and shortages were inevitable. To ensure an equitable distribution of basic essentials, rationing was imposed through a ‘points’ system and prices were controlled. Ration books and clothing coupons were issued to all, with adjustments to meet special needs, like pregnant women, young children and vegetarians. By and large the public supported rationing as ensuring fair shares for all, and though a black market developed it never seriously threatened the system. It is generally accepted that food rationing improved the nation’s health through the imposition of a balanced diet with essential vitamins. Meat, butter and sugar were rationed from early 1940, other foodstuffs, including tea, were added later, and entitlement varied at different times during the war. Bread, potatoes, coffee, vegetables, fruit and fish were never rationed, though choice and availability of the last three were often limited. Clothing was rationed, and fuel was subject to restrictions from early in the war. Meals eaten away from home, whether in expensive West End restaurants were ‘off ration’. The conspicuous ability of the rich to enjoy almost pre-war levels of gastronomy at top hotels led to such resentment from Londoners at large that the government prevented restaurants charging more than 5/- a meal from 1942. This curbed the most ostentatious examples, though it did not completely solve the problem. British Restaurants supplied an almost universal experience of eating away from me. Here a three course meal cost only 9d. Standards varied, but the best were greatly appreciated and had a large regular clientele. British Restaurants were run by local authorities, who set them up in a variety of different premises such as schools and church halls. They evolved from the LCC’s Londoners’ Meals Service which originated in September 1940 as a temporary, emergency system for feeding those who had been bombed out. By mid-1941 the LCC was operating two hundred of these restaurants. British Restaurants were open to all, but mainly served office and industrial workers.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Doom and gloom

The philosophy behind achieving sustainability through scarcity was expressed by Rev. Thomas Malthus who theorised since the Earth's resources were finite while population grew exponentially, the world would inevitably run out of resources. The Malthusian theory is a favourite theme of environmentalists and other doomsayers. Eventually the Earth, depleted of resources, will enter a new dark age in which human existence will be under constant threat. To be sure, there has been famines, which cause enormous suffering, for reasons of weather, natural disasters and geo-politics. But the problem is not our inability to grow enough food. It's uneven food distribution and our inability to get food to people who need it.

The theory of unchecked population growth itself overwhelming the capacity of the Earth to sustain life has also been discredited. As nations develop and their economies grow, birth rates decline. This because parents no longer feel the need to have large families to provide for their old age, which liberates women from their traditional role as child-bearers to enter the workforce. Projections are the Earth's population of 6.5 billion today will grow to 9 billion by 2050 and stabilize at 11 billion by 2200. Considering global standards of living continually rose as the Earth's population increased to its present level, there's reason for optimism about its capacity to sustain 11 billion people two centuries from now. This isn't to minimise human suffering or suggest there will not continue to be famines, disease and poverty. But it does refute the idea population growth itself poses an existential threat.

Today's doomsayers make the classic mistake of predicting the future based on the present.

From here

The production of food has been the domain of the farming and fishing communities from beyond history. The strong links that farmers had to their land was severed by the introduction of industrial farming and the ‘Green Revolution’. Traditional knowledge that has sustained humanity for over three thousand years was discounted and replaced with a high energy dependent, biodiversity poor, toxic method of farming which has been supported and financed by the capitalist system. A Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research paper explains “The primary objective of agriculture is not to enhance the resource base on which agriculture depends, and certainly not to enhance environmental quality." http://groundviews.org/2011/06/18/right-to-food-ecologically-based-agriculture/

‘Modern’ agriculture discounts traditional approaches. In Sri Lanka the tradition of selective hand weeding resulted in a crop increase of over 400% in Rice paddies. In Africa It has been shown that a 79% increase crop increase has been obtained through cultural and ecological approaches to agriculture. Tree planting methods have changed the environments of thousands of hectares of Sahelian desert to more sustainable ecosystems in Tanzania, Senegal and Mali. Projects in Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Cuba, Ecuador and Viet Nam have increased both crop and non-crop biodiversity by over 150%. Agrarian societies with long histories, posses the credibility of having sustained themselves successfully under the rigor of survival in a natural world. The concern for the future is that the model chosen for sustaining future global agrarian society is an energy and resource demanding production system. it is becoming evident that the present resource expensive system of agrarian production will become increasingly more expensive to maintain. This phenomenon is a result of increasing input costs and decreasing productivity of the land. The predicted global climate effects will also make large areas of monocultures risky.

From here

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Buddhist Communist

Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama told a group of Chinese students at the University of Minnesota, "I consider myself a Marxist . . . but not a Leninist."

The Dalai Lama explained his youthful enthusiasm in a 1999 essay for Time, mentioning that he even considered joining the Communist Party: "Tibet at that time was very, very backward. The ruling class did not seem to care, and there was much inequality. Marxism talked about an equal and just distribution of wealth. I was very much in favor of this. Then there was the concept of self-creation. Marxism talked about self-reliance, without depending on a creator or a God. That was very attractive. . . . I still think that if a genuine communist movement had come to Tibet, there would have been much benefit to the people."

This Romano, apparently a professor of philosophy and humanities at Ursinus College, simply reveals his own ignorance with such comments as "The problem is that Marx wasn't just a Marxist—he was a Communist—and many of Mao's most destructive moves came right out of Marx's playbook for destroying self-reliance, among other things."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

dignity and poverty

An interesting article by Justin Bayor.

Edward Azar’s theory of Protracted Social Conflict (PSC) understands that the critical factor in PSCs is “the prolonged and often violent struggle by groups for such basic needs as security, recognition and acceptance, fair access to political institutions and economic participation”. The theory identifies deprivation as the underlying source of PSC. Grievances resulting from need and deprivation are usually expressed collectively and failure to redress these grievances provide the manure for PSC. Grievances among people emerge as a result of the indignities that they experience in their everyday life whether rich or poor. But the idea of human dignity is not a recent phenomenon. It is as old as the history of humankind and exists in various forms in all cultures and religions. For example, the high value accorded to the human being can be seen in the South African philosophy of ‘ubuntu’ or the protection of foreigners in Islam. The ‘golden rule’ which states that one should treat others as one would like to treat oneself, exists in all major religions. The International Bill of Human Rights has embodied one underlying conception of human dignity. The preambles to both the 1966 International Covenants on Human Rights states that Human Rights ‘derive from the inherent dignity of the human person’. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They… should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’.

Poverty should not just be understood according to its academic definition only. It should be understood in terms of what poor people themselves say. To the poor themselves, living in poverty means more than living without money, water, food, education, relatives, peace, social capital, democracy etc. In other words, living without human material and non material security involves a lot of more, which affects the dignity of the poor. For instance, the main concern of a group of homeless people in the US was the indignity of having to line up daily to receive a ration of five pieces of toilet paper. ‘That infuriated them, it took them beneath any level of dignity they might have’ and it was around that indignity, rather than the wider issue of their homelessness, that they were prepared to fight. Dignity in the human person requires personal autonomy, societal concern, respect and treatment by others in society as an equal. If dignity is attributable to all human beings and if dignity requires autonomy which in turn is a right, then human dignity is essential to human rights. Apart from the material lack and want of food, livelihoods, assets, money, housing and shelter often described by the poor, the poor often described poverty as the everyday indignities that they have to go through which include pain, discomfort, exhaustion, discrimination, exclusion, rejection, isolation, loneliness, voicelessness, stigmatisation, vulnerability, disrespect, worry, fear, anxiety, low self-confidence and esteem, powerlessness, helplessness, frustration, anger, humiliation, shame etc. These are the issues that really concern the poor. Human indignity is more important than the situation of the poverty itself. Simply put, a poor man would rather have an empty stomach than face the indignity of having food served on the ground for him or live without employment rather than face humiliation from being spat on by an employer.

Poverty is said to be a hindrance to human dignity because it constitutes a denial of the fundamental human rights of an individual. The OHCHR has declared that ‘poverty is the principal cause of human rights violations in the world. It prevents people from assuming not only their duties as individuals, but also their collective duties as citizens, parents, workers and electors’. Rights ‘are shaped through actual struggle informed by poor people’s own understandings of what they are entitled to’ according to the OHCHR

Consequently, it is around the issues of human indignity that people are prepared to utilise violence. The issues around the issues of human indignity vis-a-vis isolation, discrimination, rejection, powerlessness etc are what Edward Azar referred to as grievances. Poor people are more willing to fight for their grievances from poverty rather than for the issue of poverty itself. A hungry man is an angry man yet an angry man does not fight because he is hungry but because he is angry. The anger is a grievance from the hunger for which he is prepared to fight. However, not all hungry men become angry and this is because because their hunger is without a grievance.
Taken from here

Monday, June 13, 2011

Taxation explained by Mattick Jnr

"Government-financed production does not produce profit. This is hard to grasp, not only because it violates a basic presupposition of the past seventy-five years of economic policy, but because a company that sells goods to the state, as when Boeing provides bombers for the Air Force, does receive a profit, and usually a good one, on its investment. But the money paid to Boeing represents a deduction from the profit produced by the economy as a whole. For the government has no money of its own; it pays with tax money or with borrowed funds that will eventually have to be repaid out of taxes.

Tax money appears to be paid by everyone. But despite the appearance that business is undertaxed, only business actually pays taxes. To understand this, think of the total income produced in a year as the money available for all social purposes. Some of this money must go to replace producers’ goods used up in the previous year; some must go as wages to buy consumer goods so that the labor force can reproduce itself; the rest appears as profit, interest, rent—and taxes. The money workers actually get is their “after tax” income; from this perspective, tax increases on employee income are just a way of lowering wages. The money deducted from paychecks, as well as from dividends, capital gains, and other forms of business income, could appear as business profits—which, let us remember, is basically the money generated by workers’ activity that they do not receive as wages—if it didn’t flow through paychecks (or other income) into government coffers. So when the government buys goods or services from a corporation (or simpler yet, hands agribusiness a subsidy or a bank a bailout) it is just giving a portion of its cut of profits back to business, collecting it from all and giving it to some. The money paid to Boeing has simply been redistributed by the state from other businesses to the aircraft producer.

This is why government spending cannot solve the problem of depression, though it can alleviate the suffering it causes, at least in the short run, by providing jobs or money to those out of work, or create infrastructure useful for future profitable production. The problem of depression—insufficient profits for business expansion—can only be solved by the depression itself (aided, perhaps, by a large-scale war), which increases profitability by lowering capital and labor costs, increasing productivity through technological advances, and concentrating capital ownership in larger, more efficient units...

...if the whole financial system fell away, and money ceased to be the power source turning the wheels of production, the whole productive apparatus of society — machines, raw materials, and above all working people — would still be there, along with the human needs it can be made to serve. The fewer years of suffering and confusion it takes for people to figure this out, the better."


Protecting pay

Pensions are deferred compensation - money that employees would have been paid as cash salary but choose, instead, to have placed in the state operated pension fund where the money can be professionally invested (at a lower cost of management) for the future. If it is true that pension money is money that already belongs to the public-sector workers, you might ask why state employees would not just take the cash as direct compensation and do their own investing for their retirement through their own individual retirement plans. Expecting individuals to be experts at investing their retirement money in defined contribution plans — instead of pooling the money so professional investors can manage the money as is done in defined benefit plans — is not sound economics. The concept, at its most basic, is buying wholesale instead of retail. Wholesale is cheaper for the buyers.

With pension rule changes, expecting public service workers to make a larger contribution to their pension and benefits programs. What they are actually asking is that the employees take a pay cut. Unions agreeing to these deals on their benefits are accepting the obligation their members paying for them out of their own pockets.

Some commenters have made the point that, while it is true that it is state-employees’ own money that funds the pension plan, when the pension plan comes up short it is up to the employer to make up the difference. There is some truth in this – but not as much as many seem to think.

Because the pension plan is a defined benefit plan – requiring the state to pay the agreed benefit for however long the employee may live in retirement- if the employee lives longer than the actuarial plan anticipated, the taxpayer is on the hook for the pay-outs during the longer life. But is this the fault of the employees? The pension agreements are the result of collective bargaining. That means that the state has had every opportunity to properly calculate the anticipated lifespan and then add on some margin for error.

Nor can the losses taken by the pension funds over the past few years be blamed on the employees. We had employers failing to make annual payments (taking pension holidays) for their pension systems. Lower investment returns from the recession. Increased taxation by the government on funds.

See also here http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/aug02/pensions3.html

Sunday, June 05, 2011

the battle of ideas

From exchanges on Libcom here

ZANTHORUS in a comment asserts "The SPGB imagine, on the contrary, that first of all the working-class will have to have had 'the message' drilled into them through propaganda before we can do anything."
How often does this assertion require refuting?

"We welcome any upsurge in the militancy and resistance and organisation of our class. But we also know, from bitter experience, that work of an altogether quieter, patient, more political kind is also needed. The skirmishes in the class war must be fought if we are not to be reduced to beasts of burden. But as human animals capable of rational thought and long-term planning, we must also seek to stop the skirmishes by winning the class war, and thereby ending it. This is only possible if the capitalist class is dispossessed of its wealth and power. That means that the working class as a whole must understand the issues, and organise and fight for these ends themselves" but, yes, unlike some here we do say it has to be "by organising a political party for the conquest of state power" http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/dec10/index.html

What we have indubitably stated is that to achieve socialism requires a clear understanding of socialist principles with a determined desire to put them into practice. For socialism to be established the mass of the prople must understand the nature and purpose of the new society. Our theory of socialist revolution is grounded in Marx's - the position of the working class within capitalist society forces it to struggle against capitalist conditions of existence and as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, the labour movement would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves and would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it. Socialist propaganda and agitation would indeed be necessary but would be carried out by workers themselves whose socialist ideas would have been derived from an interpretation of their class experience of capitalism. The end result would be an independent movement of the socialist-minded and democratically organised working class aimed at winning control of political power in order to abolish capitalism. Marx’s “the workers’ party to be", would be the mass democratic movement of the working class with a view to establishing socialism" the SPGB no longer claim that mantle.) We however fully accept that it is the responsibility of the SPGB to challenge capitalist apologists and pseudo-socialists in the battle of ideas and that requires talking to, leafleting and debating and engaging with our fellow workers.

The workers' acceptance of capitalist political and social ideas, like their other ideas, is learned from other people--their parents, their schoolteachers, their workmates, the press, television--and so derived from society so it follows therefore that the struggle against capitalist ideology must be also be a struggle to spread socialist ideas - a role taken on by the SPGB. Socialist ideas arise when workers begin to reflect on the general position of the working class within capitalist society. They do then have to be communicated to other workers, but NOT from outside the working class as a whole. They have to be communicated by OTHER workers who, from their own experience and/or from absorbing the past experience of the working class, have come to a socialist understanding. It's not a question of enlightened outsiders bringing socialist ideas to the ignornant workers but of socialist-minded workers spreading socialist ideas amongst their fellow workers. We see socialist consciousness as emerging from a combination of two things - people's experience of capitalism and the problems it inevitably creates but also the activity of socialists in making hearing the case for socialism a part of that experience.

The SPGB have written that

"In considering the question of how realistic it is to expect a socialist revolution, it is important to consider the hidden history of events that most people are unaware of. It was in the Paris Commune of 1871 that French workers actually created organisations of mass control which challenged the old system for a brief space of time. In the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, workers and peasants developed similar structures of direct workers' control such as the workers councils and factory committees. The Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 eventually destroyed this, and ushered in a system of state capitalism. Similarly, in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the workers set up workers' councils when they took on their so-called "communist" oppressors. During the May of 1968 in France, workplaces and universities were taken over and in many cases run in a way that is of immense inspiration to socialists.
What happened on these occasions? Not socialist revolutions, as some claim. But they were significant in the history of the struggles of our class. They are significant because the sort of people who dismiss the possibility of revolutionary upheavals were dismissing it seconds before these events blew up in their faces. No one is in any position to dismiss the prospect of revolution who has not carefully examined these movements. In none of these cases was a socialist revolution achieved, but in each case there was a fundamental interruption of the ruling order and the appearance of new forms and conceptions of everyday life. To ignore them because of their failure is to miss the point. Individual revolts are bound to fail until they are accompanied by a widespread and growing—and ultimately worldwide—socialist consciousness.
What we hope these brief examples show is that real change can be brought about by workers. Socialism is not a utopian dream. It is an ever-present undercurrent in working class practice. The task is to make it the main one. That these revolts did not go farther is hardly surprising. What is inspiring is that they went as far as they did."

We regard socialism not as a purely political theory, nor as an economic doctrine, but as one which embraces every phase of social life.

A shorter reply should have been that the SPGB are not against co-ops, the unions, or any other way in which workers struggle. What we do say, is that these are not means towards socialism, and we advocate socialism as the better and lasting answer.

Not wishing to get too involved in Irish nationalist politics but didn't Sinn Fein engage in the electoral process quite successfully and were never banned, and even the Bobby Sands seat was held, with an increased vote, by Sinn Fein, who were never legally excluded from participation in elections. Successes convinced republicans that they should contest elections and led to the armalite and ballot box phase of their politics and then led to a resurrection of the old Sinn fein boycott of the London parliament strategy for elected MPs and eventually lead to their integration fully with parliamentary democracy in Northern Ireland.

Regardless though, the SPGB position is that we would change our tactics if the law on elections is changed to the workers detriment, but until that day, we will show our commitment to democracy and let the capitalist class prove themselves to be un-democratic. We won't stand idly by if the constitution is changed. It wouldn’t stop socialism being eventually established, one way or another.

"We have never held, as a matter of fact, that a merely formal majority at the polls under no matter what circumstances, will give the workers power to achieve Socialism... we stress the necessity of capturing the machinery of government including the armed forces. That is the fundamental thing. The method, though important, is second to this." http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/etheory/1933-93/html/33Hook.html

Way back in 1909 we answered the question “What would be the action of the S.P.G.B. if the capitalist class, in view of the possibility of an adverse vote, disfranchise the workers?”

Our reply was that "in such an event we would be faced with a new problem; the whole aspect has changed; constitutional methods are closed to us; and we are forced to adopt methods of secret organisation and physical violence. And that is the only course left open if the workers disfranchise themselves by baulking at any of the formulae imposed by the capitalist government to hinder the political return of their social and economic opponents in the class struggle. But there is little likelihood of the master class being so blind...Not that the master class will hesitate at bloodshed if they deem it necessary to the maintenance of capitalist privilege...Actually the problem of the methods to be adopted must be determined by the circumstances of the time. Our first move is the development of the desire for Socialism among the working class and the preparation of the political party to give expression to that desire. The move of our opponents against the successful action of that political party must determine our subsequent actions. If the fight is kept to the political field within constitutional limits, the rulers taking the defeat when it comes in a spirit of contrition and resignation – well and good. If they choose not to accept the verdict of the nation when given through the medium of their own institutions, but contest that verdict by physical force, the workers must be depended upon to repeat their verdict upon that field, and if the capitalist class follows its predecessors into the limbo of the forgotten past through an exit of blood and carnage, its blood must be on its own head. The important thing is for the workers to gain control of the political machinery, because the political machine is the real centre of social control...Given, then, the Socialist idea firmly set in the mind of the working class, any action taken by the masters to prevent the realisation of that idea would be checked by the workers if solidly organised into the Socialist Party; while a final appeal to physical force hastened by the destruction of constitutional means would leave the victory with the workers, who, “vastly outnumber their tyrants in war”. In view of all the facts, the Socialist Party of Great Britain enters the field of political activion determined to wage war etc, etc." http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/20C/09atactics.html

An oft repeated and inaccurate criticism of the SPGB is that faced with an impending socialist election victory the capitalist ruling class would abolish political democracy and, even if they let things go so far as an actual socialist election victory, would not respect it and would carry on ruling regardless yet recent events in North Africa, like those previously in Eastern Europe even if a pro-capitalist minority were to try to prevent a change of political control via the ballot box, the socialist majority will still be able to impose its will by other means, such as street demonstrations and strikes.

"Faced with the hostility of a majority of workers (including, of course, workers in the civil and armed forces, as well as workers in productive and distributive occupations), the capitalist minority would be unable, in the long run, to enforce its commands and the workers would be able to dislocate production and transport." http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/apr11/reflect_revolution.html

The 2002 coup against Chavez failed because people were prepared to take to the streets to back up their vote and because the bulk of the armed forces remained loyal to the constitution and the constitutionally-elected president. The theory that power obtained by the ballot box to effect radical changes can’t be retained was disproved by actual experience. It confirmed our view that a socialist majority can both win and retain power via the ballot box if that majority is sufficiently organised and determined and if there is no question as to their democratic legitimacy.

The SPGB case in the present world and not a hypothetical future scenario is that any attempt to establish an socialiist society by ignoring the democratic process gives any recalcitrant minority the excuse for anti-libertarian direct action itself. We insist on the necessity of majority understanding behind socialist delegates with a mandate for socialism, merely using the state and parliament for one revolutionary act, after which the Socialist Party has no further existence.

The SPGB have always stood for the argument that what will be necessary is a world-wide socialist revolution, not one country in isolation. It's why the SPGB often uses the other name World Socialist Movement. Ideas are social, artificial national borders cannot contain them, as we are presently seeing in the influence of the "Arab Spring" that's now spread to Spain.

We have often disparaged those who call for some form of minority revolution and have also dismissed any nationalist solutions to the workers problems because of what you describe as the "internationally united" opposition which would indeed strangle any attempt at expropriation. Our view on the army (and police) is basically that they are workers in uniform, as receptive to revolutionary ideas as civilians are.

The SPGB, as we have often said, engage in the parliamentary process not to take and hold political office and form a government but for the purpose of seizing control of the state for its abolishment. Others may question the validity of such an approach, and doubt the possibility of success, but it makes the SPGB more than your average run-of-the-mill parliamentarian political party, elected to administer capitalism or offer palliatives, in the way Chavez presented himself and we shouldn't be confused as such.

The issuing of orders, the appointment and control of officials, and everything else connected with the operation of the State, is in the hands of the majority group in Parliament who go on to constitute the Government. Underlying your argument is idea that there is somehow a power behind or beyond elected governments that in reality controls them (some kind of shadowy group or committee or boardroom that is really in control) and that, therefore, if its position is seriously threatened it has the means at its disposal to clamp down on those threatening it and will not hesitate to use violence to do so, perhaps in the form of a coup or a military takeover. Its why we sometimes counter that it is a conspiracy theory.

We don't think faced with a massive majority vote for socialism, and a working class outside parliament organised to back it up, the ruling class would put their life and liberty on the line by resorting to violence to try to resist the inevitable. Maybe there'll be a few isolated acts of violence by fool-hardy individuals, but these could easily be contained and the socialist revolution should be able to pass off essentially peacefully. Your hypothetical scenario of the military and police being turned upon the workers since they too would be influenced by socialist ideas, as civil servants and administrators and all who work within the state-machine. As i have said , a recalcitrant minority or as Marx and Engels described them "pro-slavery rebels" will not hold back socialism because there'd be strikes there'd be mass civil disobedience (refusal to obey the rebels' edicts) and street demonstrations and there would be army mutinies. As stated ad nauseum, our object of taking political control of the state is not in isolation with events outside parliament. Socialist ideas will overspill into the military. Is a soldier is something less than other workers? Do we over-look the sailors of 1918 Hamburg , or the Kronsdadt, or all the "Red Army" councils. Please, no psychological profiling that the mentality of a worker in uniform is fundamentally and qualitatively different for a whole host of other occupiations.

The SPGB can be proud of its long history in exposing the oxymoron of the "workers state" and attacking the concepts of Leninism (and its offspring Stalinism and Trotskyism). A quick search of our website should suffice to prove that.

The SPGB has never been in the business to win popularity contests and jump on any old band-wagon for the sake of recruitment and many of the political organisations that did have disappeared, having had no lasting impact. Events have only confirmed the SPGB case that understanding is a necessary condition for socialism, not desperation and despair. There is no easier road to socialism than the education of the workers in socialism and their organisation to establish it by democratic methods. Shortcuts have proved to be cul de sacs. Has history actually proved this position wrong? i doubt it. Until the knowledge and experience of the working class are equal to the task of revolution there can be no emancipation.

The fact of the longevity of the SPGB as a political organisation based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles seems to suggest that we indeed represent some strand of socialist thought that some people are drawn towards.

The state does indeed represent the ruling dominant class, it's why workers strive for its control and why a revolution thats out to abolish classes also means the end of the state. If who controls parliament is empty rhetoric, then the ruling class spend a helluva lot of effort vying with other sections of the ruling class for control of it and making sure workers endorse them with their vote.

What happened in Chile is not relevant to our case that capitalism can be abolished by a democratically-organised socialist majority using Parliament. First, Allende and the People's Unity (Unidad Popular) alliance which supported him did not enjoy majority support (the election result was a 3-way split). Second, Allende did not stand for socialism but for state capitalism. Third, it was an attempt to improve things within the context of a single country on its own, which we have already said is not possible. Quite different conditions that will obtain on the eve of socialism - mass support for socialism throughout the world - which will be sufficient to deter latter-day Pinochet.
For every sucessful coup, how many failed ones? I already mentioned Chavez.

We are told that revolution is a process culminating in socialist consciousness, well - i can accept the rolling snowball theory that things will grow bigger and go faster - but excuse me for decrying other groups activities, but until that critical mass is reached, just what do they do that's so different from the SPGB...propaganda. And again please, don't refer me to claims of organising the workers, attempts to do so from the early days of traditional syndicalism to nowadays with SolFed and the IWW has not made any effective inroads, apart from propagandaising.

[Zanthorus] can blow the trumpet about ICC interventions all he wants, i can easily counter with historic examples of the participation of socialist party members, from the OBU in Canada to other strikes and union organising. I see no merit in chest baring and pissing contests since i think it can be conceded that the thin red line is very thin, indeed. I wish it wasn't the case because then it may give some clue to what group's tactics and methods is the better option for workers. The SPGB has one view and approach, those here have others, but, fact is, painful as it is, so far the working class has not been convinced by any of us. There exists to-day, so many factions claiming each to lay down the course necessary to be taken by the working class towards its emancipation and so far its all fallen on deaf ears.

The Socialist Party does not minimise the necessity and importance of the worker keeping up the struggle over wages or to resisting cuts. There are some signs that union membership and general combativity are rising. And let's not forget that this is vital if our class is to develop some of the solidarity and self-confidence essential for the final abolition of wage slavery. We recognise the necessity of workers' solidarity in the class struggle against the capitalist class, and rejoice in every victory for the workers to assert their economic power. But to struggle for higher wages and better conditions is not revolutionary in any true sense of the word; and the essential weapons in this struggle are not inherently revolutionary either. It demands the revolutionising of the workers themselves. If there were more revolutionary workers in the unions—and in society generally—then the unions and the host of other community organisations would have a more revolutionary outlook,

This does not mean that we say workers should sit back and do nothing, the struggle over wages and conditions must go on. But it becomes clear that this is a secondary, defensive activity. The real struggle is to take the means of wealth production and distribution into the common ownership. Only by conscious and democratic action will such a socialist system of society be established. This means urging workers to want something more than what they once thought was "enough". The SPGB are accused of wanting "too much" because our aim is free access and common ownership. The task of the Socialist Party is to show workers that in fact it is a practical proposition. To transform this desire into an immediancy for the working class.

Participation in the class struggle does not automatically make workers class conscious. Militancy on the industrial field is just that and does not necessarily lead to political militancy, but ebbs and flows as labour market conditions change – and militants in the work-places can in no way count on their supporters on the political field. Yet one school of thought in the working class political movement sees strikes, particularly the unofficial wildcat kind, as bona fide rebellions, not only against the labour leaders, but against the capitalist system itself. This school views it as the beginnings of a real rank and file movement which will eventually result in the workers throwing out the union bureaucrats, taking over the factories, establishing workers' councils and ultimately a "workers society" based on these councils. We beg to differ.

Another school of thought ( mostly the Trots) believes industrial militancy can be used as a lever to push the workers along a political road, towards their "emancipation." How is this possible if the workers do not understand the political road, and are only engaging in economic struggles? The answer is the Leninist "leaders in-the-know" who will direct the workers. But these leaders lead the workers in the wrong direction, toward the wrong goals (nationalisation and state capitalism), as the workers find out to their sorrow.

The SPGB approach of education can point out to the workers that strikes arise out of the nature of capitalism, but that they are not the answer to the workers' problems. These economic struggles settle nothing decisively because in the end the workers remain wage slaves. It is the political act of the entire working class to eliminate the exploitative relations between workers and capitalists which can furnish a final solution and remove the chains. It's not the same as Leninist leadership, to point these things out, as someone seemed to believe earlier on this thread. It is educating workers to understand the nature of both capitalism and socialism, so that, with this understanding, the workers themselves can carry out the political act of their own emancipation. These struggles can be used as a means of educating workers to the real political struggle - socialism.

Prove to me a better way.

How the struggle acquires this political expression of clear opposition to the capitalist state. How does it arise? Are you saying that there is a degree of automaticity in the process? No other possibilities for worker to take as a perceived solution such as fascism, or nationalism or religion? The SPGB i think would argue that it is about engaging people with the idea of socialism, to talk about a revolution in social relations, and i think part of my earlier post indicated that if workers are already involved in actual struggle they would be more receptive to the idea more effective it would become. But not inevitable. There is nothing automatic about social change, it has to be struggled for.

I think we can quote Marx from the Manifesto in regard minorities and majorities. "The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement."
"Pushes forward"
i think is the key phrase...Marx didn't say lead forward.

For many the Socialist Party's conception of revolution lacks credibility and that they claim unlike the SPGB to possess a theory of revolution that does not expect people to wait for the overwhelming majority necessary to 'enact' socialism before doing something about their immediate problems. I hope this provides another angle of the discussion.

The WSM position is honest in that we don't know what the characteristics of revolution will look like in detail but we do think we know what it won't look like. Some expect the Socialist Party to be soothsayers. The problem is that it is rather useless for us today to declare what tomorrow exactly is going to happen when socialism in imminent. Will the working class (even a socialist one that is highly politically educated) wait for the declaration of its elected representatives or delegates in Parliament and legislatures? What happens when say 55 per cent of the working class says "Let's do it now!" What happens if the majority of workers in the UK and Europe start to elect Socialist majorities, but not in the U.S., Japan, etc.? And what if the State (the
state capitalist State and private capitalist State) do begin to exert their powers to stifle the movement (and they will)? Do we then sit and wait again for our chance? What constitutes a working class majority wanting Socialism. Is it 51 per cent? 60 %? 75%? I feel this is a futile exercise to make. We simply cannot foresee the events that take place even when say 30 % of the working class becomes socialist.
And, furthermore, socialism and its construction will not simply be a legal enactment ( even though feudal property rights were abolished in France during the night of 4 August 1789 and in Russa at 2.30 am on the morning of 9 November 1917.)

Say, for example, that we reached the stage where 20% of the adult working population was indeed socialist. That would be an incredible achievement and there would be a sudden rise in working class militancy in immediate issues, there would be a new "socialist culture" being built, changes within the entire labour movement, in daily life and how people thought politically. At 40% we would still not be the "overwhelming majority" but this would be such a sizably significant and politically powerful base. And here quantitative changes would mean qualitative changes. The "movement" we have now would not be the same movement under those circumstances. It might move in directions we have never even considered. And it has profound implications. It is too difficult for us to simply say that when the overwhelming majority of people around the world want socialism they will create it because there will indeed rise these very revolutionary situations or critical revolutionary crisis or juncture that have not followed the formal logic of the propositions we put forward. The "movement" will take on a life of its own.

The World Socialist Movement cannot control whether or not workers become socialists. What we can provide, and what we have continuously provided, is a theory of revolution which , if had been taken up by workers, would have prevented incalculable misery to millions. Over the years, the Party's theory has led to the formation of a body of knowledge which has been consistently capable of accurate political and economic predictions. For example, in 1917, the Bolsheviks were convinced that they were setting society in Russia on a course of change towards socialism. The Party argued that socialism was not being established in Russia. What followed was the horrendous misery of the Stalinist years. The Party put forward the same view of events in China in 1949. What is happening in Russia and China now? The rulers of these state capitalist regimes introduced free market capitalism. We warned against situations where groups or sections of workers try to stage the revolution or implement socialism when the rest of the working class is not prepared. They will only be prepared when they accept the need to capture political power and THEN the implementation of Socialism based on majority support can begin. Otherwise you may have a situation where a minority may push the majority into a situation it is not prepared for and the results could be disastrous. What comes to mind is the situation in Germany in 1919 when large groups of workers supported the Spartacus group while the majority of the working class still supported the Social Democratic Party. The uprising was put down brutally and the working class was divided. In regards to gradualism and reformism when in 1945 the Labour Party was elected with the objective of establishing a "socialist" Britain, the Party, again arguing from its theory, insisted that there would be no new social order. In fact, that Labour Government steered capitalism in Britain through the post-war crisis, enabling it to be massively expanded in the boom years of the 1950s. What is happening in the Labour Party now? Confused and directionless, it stands utterly bankrupt of ideas. The Labour Party even abandoned its adherence to Keynesian theories which the Party always insisted could never provide policies which would remove the anarchy of capitalism. Its ideas on the progressive introduction of socialism are now only a distant memory.

We have stated that the SPGB is aware that the use of parliament (or other suitable bodies) by a socialist majority is just one part of a much broader movement for change in which the revolutionised ideas and activities of millions of class-conscious workers will be rather more important than the actions of delegates in parliament. Nor is it right in stating that the Socialist Party relies "simply upon the agency of 'abstract propaganda' Our propaganda is not abstract: we relate to the real experiences of workers today, constantly making clear in our speaking and writing that socialism is the immediately practical solution to workers' so-called "short-term interests". The Socialist Party is well aware that revolution will not "simply" be the result of our propaganda efforts. Our appeal to workers is upon the basis of class interest and our appeal will be successful because the class struggle generates class consciousness in workers. The growth of socialist consciousness and organisation will allow workers to prosecute the class struggle more effectively. Socialist consciousness won't entirely emerge "spontaneously" out of the day-to-day struggle, which is given as an excuse for not advocating socialism by those such as Trotskyists who think it will. It has been claimed by some of them that all socialists need to do is to get involved in the day to day struggle. The justification for advocating socialism as such is that socialist ideas do have to be brought to workers, though not from outside, from the "bourgeois intelligentsia" or the "proletarian vanguard", but from inside, from members of the working class who have come to see that socialism is the way-out. We socialists are members of the working class spreading socialist ideas amongst our fellow workers. We are (if you like) part of the "spontaneous" process of the emergence of socialist consciousness.

Of course, socialist understanding evolves over a period of time. There are two models of revolution , i think prevalent in the SPGB (a) the snowball theory, that once a certain stage has been reached, socialist consciousness will grow at exponential rate and a majority will be reached in a relatively short time, and (b) the avalanche theory, that once that certain stage has been reached mass socialist consciousness will come suddenly. Both these views reject the view that the growth of socialist consciousness will be a simple 1+1+1 progression as individual workers are "converted" one by one, which is attributed to us.

All theoretical mysteries find their rational solution in human practice and the comprehension of this practice. Hence the idea of choosing between "abstract propagandism" and "doing something now" is as false a choice as choosing between theory and practice. We must have some theory linking the capitalist present and the socialist future. Some theory yes, but not just any theory. This theory must be based both on the class struggle as the motor of social change and on an understanding of the economics of capitalism and the limits it places on what can be done within the framework of the capitalist system. As socialists we are engaged in a necessarily contradictory struggle: on the one hand we propose the abolition of the wages system as an immediately practical alternative, but on the other we recognise the need of workers to fight the wages struggle within capitalism. But, as socialists, our main energies must be directed towards the former objective. We could endeavour to remove this distinction between the trade union struggle within capitalism and the socialist struggle against capitalism by adopting the ideas propounded by DeLeon, who at one time advocated that socialists should form their own "revolutionary unions" but their failure is a very important case study of the danger of imagining that capitalist institutions such as trade unions can be easily converted (or substituted) into socialist bodies. They demonstrate that capitalism cannot be transcended from within.

It is very probable that as more socialists come into the movement groups of them will have involvements in all kinds of areas of the class struggle, ranging from strike committees to anti-racist or anti-sexist awareness groups to people's theatre projects to libertarian education projects. However involved individual members may or may not be in what is going on outside the Socialist Party, we certainly need to be aware that workers are doing things which, often unknowingly, are contributing to the evolution of class consciousness. Not everything has to have the stamp of approval of the
SPGB for it to be non-reformist and contributory to the evolution which precedes revolution. The Socialist Party tries to guard against appearing to be the sole agent of the socialist transformation. Our main task is to find better ways of expressing our message to as many workers as possible, to evolve a strategy so that we use our resources well and to retain our confidence in the face of the immense frustration and pessimism which socialists often encounter.

Some perceive a problem problem they can't see how workers who have become socialists can be expected to sit back and wait for a majority to join them before being able to do something constructive. But no-one's asking them to do this. There will be a whole series of "practical" actions, apart from socialist propaganda activity, that will become possible when once there is a substantial minority of socialists (as opposed to the tiny minority we are today). Our pamphlet "Socialist Principles Explained" says "The organisation and day-to-day running of socialist society will be a completely separate issue. It will have been discussed and planned at great length by everybody before the actual take-over of power takes place. " and "As the old regime is abolished, the new, really democratic, social order, discussed and planned for so long beforehand , will come into operation".

For instance there will be involvement in:-
* the challenges of the practice of democracy within the socialist political party, and the broader socialist movement generally.
* the task within the trade unions to prosecute the class struggle on the economic front in a more class-conscious and democratic way as well as drawing up plans for keeping production going during the period of social revolution while political action is being taken to end the monopoly exercised by the capitalist class over the means of production.
*participation within the numerous associations, clubs and mutual aid groups that will flourish at this time, to discuss and prepare the implementation of plans in such fields as town planning, education and culture both after and to a certain extent even before the establishment of socialism.

The growing socialist movement would be preparing for the change-over to socialism and drawing up of plans to reorganise decision-making on a fully democratic basis and to reorient production towards the satisfaction of needs once class ownership and the operation of capitalism's economic laws have been ended. People working in organisations like the WHO and the FAO and the host of other NGOs and charities would be dusting off plans to eliminate world hunger and unnecessary disease. Socialist educational and media ventures would be coming into existence.

We in the SPGB can can picture a socialist party and movement growing in the future along with many working class organisational forms including trade unions, councils, the old IWW idea of One Big Union but not without certain caveats. Workers' councils has, in the past, been a very independent body of workers created at the workplace itself (Russia 1905, 1917, Germany 1919, Hungary 1919, the British General strike, council movements in Ireland and Scotland in the same period, in Italy, Hungary 1956, Poland 1970). They usually arise in situations of economic and political crises. They also often rise in opposition to the established trade unions. They are very much spontaneous organisations that do not have any clearly defined political goal (in our case, socialism). Their existence can challenge the State, but not necessarily so. Their inherent problem is that they can be political organisations (again not necessarily so), but tied to the prevailing economic structure of capitalism.. And because they arise in response to whatever crisis, their co-ordination is difficult, and the political consciousness of the workers not necessarily socialist in the end. In past revolutions the councils have swayed back and forth between political parties and movements and there is no "conscious" action other than a responsive one.

Whereas, a socialist party has the advantage because its interest and actions do not revolve around this or that section of the working class, but of the working class as a whole. And it functions as the instrument to "take hold of the state machine", to seize the levers of government. Councils do not nor cannot do that. They can set themselves up as a dual power to the government or State, but the State still has the control of bureaucracy, army, police force, all forces of oppression. What has to be captured is the State itself to dismantle all this "bureaucratic-military machine". The State already exists as a class institution, the representative of the capitalist class. It exists as a creation that "administers" capitalism and thus a Socialist party must come to the fore which challenges the capitalist class in the political arena in order to seize this administration, "lop off its worst parts" and be provided with the institutions already in place to implement socialism. Now this is where councils, if they are established, could come into play.

Again, the advantage of the Party is that it is the interest of the whole class and does not, in the process, disenfranchise anyone. The working class needs a political organisation, not one segmented on the basis of how industry is set up under capitalism. An organisation of Socialists is needed. As it grows then the dynamic of the class struggle changes and goes off into new directions. We cannot see a council system now, or an industrial union system like the IWW advocates providing the same. The latter organisational forms are determined themselves by capitalist industry and are not necessarily the ideal forms for socialist construction. Both they and Workers councils disenfranchise those sectors of the population not organised into industrial unions or councils.

I don't want this contribution to appear that the SPGB and WSM are without faults. We are only too painfully aware of them as Marx was about the boils on his bum. We are more or less invisible to the working class because too often we are an organisation on the outside looking in. We look upon workers' self-organisation (for reforms, for wage rises, or whatever) and we say "It doesn't go far enough! They're not advocating socialism. Don't they understand that socialism is the solution?" and then we step back from the real struggle in front of our us for fear that either we will be tainted with the smudge of reformism or that somehow will recreate the interventionism of the Leninists. Perhaps a grain of truth in that but i would assert that it is to be with the approach and attitude which requires addressing and not the content or validity of SPGB thought and principles. Where we as a political party and movement often fail is in our own activism, in not "being there" with the working class, alongside them, when it is fighting its battles - that invisibility again! One cannot talk with workers unless one is WITH them. It is not enough to be one OF them. What we have to be is the movement (as i earlier quoted) the group which points out the way, which "pushes forward". With the SPGB by focussing mainly only on the "end aim", the role of the "movement" itself has been neglected. I hold my hands up and plead guilty. But if the revolution is a process, the SPGB is going to be part of the process and will certainly not be the unmoving monument it's made out to be, since it too evolves and has done so and will again.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Reformism - What's Left

Economic theory underlies our case against reformism. A revolution is the work of a class which has gained political power in order to transform society to suit its interests; a reform is carried out only within the framework of the social system. Reforms cannot end capitalism; they can modify it to some extent, but they leave its basis untouched. To establish socialism, a revolution—a complete transformation of private property into social property—is necessary. We do not deny that certain reforms won by the working class have helped to improve our general living and working conditions. Indeed, we see little wrong with people campaigning for reforms that bring essential improvements and enhance the quality of their lives, and some reforms do indeed make a difference to the lives of millions and can be viewed as 'successful' (we also recognise that such 'successes' have in reality done little more than to keep workers and their families in efficient working order and rarely managed to remove the problem completely.) What we are opposed to is the whole culture of reformism, the idea that capitalism can be made palatable with the right reforms, We oppose those organisations that promise to deliver a programme of reforms on behalf of the working class in order that they gain a position of power (some groups, especially those of the left-wing, often have real aims quite different to the reform programme they peddle. In this, they are being as dishonest as any other politician, from the left or right.) The ultimate result of this is disillusionment with the possibility of radical change. The struggle for reforms cannot alter the slave position of the working class, it ends by bringing indifference to the workers who look to reforms for emancipation.

We define reforms as political measures brought forward to amend the operation of capitalism in some way. We say this because in a class divided system like capitalism, it is the state, controlled by the political apparatus, that is the institution operating this entire process. By extension, ‘reformism’ is the attempt to seek support so that political power and influence over the state can be obtained to enact reforms. While political and economic measures are often intertwined, without their political character they can’t be reformist. So the key issue for socialists is not to advocate (or seek political support for) reform programmes, as this is reformism

There are two kinds of reformism. One has no intention of bringing about revolutionary change – indeed it may use reforms to oppose such change. The other kind cherishes the mistaken belief that successful reforms will somehow prepare the ground for revolution. Reforms are seen as necessary first steps on the long road to eventual revolution. The idea that capitalism can be humanised and changed by a series of reforms is almost as old as the capitalist system itself. The motives for reforms may be to relieve suffering and to promote well-being, but the measures have the effect of serving the system rather than meeting the needs of individuals or groups. The role of hegemony – that powerful combination of ruling ideas filtered through conventional education, the mass media, and a culture of consumption – is important in understanding how reformismis actually carried out by members of the working class. Concerned as they are to maintain the profit system, they persuade themselves to do what is best for “the economy”. Also to be considered is that certain reforms will please some workers but enrage just as many more. Yet while reformism is a disastrous way forward individual reforms aren’t always intrinsically divisive to the working class, such as securing freedom of speech, extending the franchise do not serve to intrinsically divide the working class in any meaningful way but are individual reforms which could conceivably benefit the entire working class and socialist movement.

There can be no questioning of the principle of fighting for reforms, no exploration as to their efficacy or need. Politicians' logic prevails:
1. Capitalism is terrible.
2. We must do something.
3. Reforms are something.
4. Therefore we must enact reforms.

Reforms are beyond question, apparently.

Reformism is never a contribution to the achievement of socialism – it is a diversion of energies working for that goal. The offer of unity proposed by the reformer to the revolutionary is always a poisoned chalice: “Join us today to promote . . . .[a small but achievable reform] and tomorrow we'll start the revolution together.” But of course tomorrow never comes. Another line of thinking that presents itself as friendly to revolution but is really calculated to frustrate it is “the time is not yet ripe” argument. Many people have sympathy with the socialist idea but say that such a transformation is a long way off and that in the meantime we must still aim for improvements within the framework of the existing system. They point to the changes that have taken place in peoples lives since the nineteenth century. It is worth trying to get more of these improvements, they say, and the best way to do it is to press governments for reforms. It may at first sight seem that certain reforms are motivated by humanitarian concern on the part of governments. The ‘welfare state’ legislation, for example, brought in after World War Two, provided state pensions and medical treatment for almost the whole population. It may seem that public agitation for reforms also does a lot to help, as when abortion was legalised in 1967 after many years of campaigning by members of the Abortion Law Reform Association. Reforms in education, sanitation and housing are others for which Tory, Labour and Liberal politicians have vied with each other to claim credit. Yet it is clear that the schooling received by the children of most wage and salary earners merely fits them for their role as workers. Improved sanitation reduces the threat of epidemics which do not spare the wealthy, while subsidised housing is intended to lessen the pressure by workers for higher wages. These measures have the purpose of raising the standard of efficiency of the workers, thus making them more productive for their masters' benefit. The more astute and far-sighted members of the ruling class have long realised this.

Socialists should know their history of the Labour Party, if only to be able to refute the claim that it was ever a socialist party and to demonstrate its failure to gradually transform capitalism into something better. the Labour Party has now abandoned its goal of those days of legislation favourable to trade unions and workers generally and has become Tweedledee to the Tories’ Tweedledum—which is what the Liberal Party was in 1900. They are not even an independent trade union pressure group in Parliament, but an openly pro-capitalist party. Today, not too many would refuse to admit that the Labour Party is anything other than a political party of capitalism. Like any other party of capitalism, it has made promises to better the lot of the workers, establish comfort and equality, do away with crime, and bring peace and security to the population. Like any other party of capitalism, it has failed to deliver. How often have disillusioned Labour supporters and voters cried “betrayal!”? Why has this been the case, that when the Labour Party have been in power, they have been obliged to continue to treat the working class badly? It’s a simple matter of understanding economic systems. Since its birth the Labour Party has been committed to running capitalism, and it has continued to do so. The social and economic problems we face are due to the capitalist system, not to some individual leaders being less benevolent than others. As for those old Labourites who blame all on the mistakes of the past and present on certain leaders, this simply adds to the argument against leadership. In any case, the leader as a individual is irrelevant. Knocking one leader out of office and replacing them with another won’t change the system, and it’s the system that all attention should be focused on if we desire a radical change in the way we live. Instead of gradually changing capitalism, it was capitalism that gradually changed them. Nowadays, they don’t even claim to be aiming at socialism, only to be able to manage capitalism in a more efficient way.

The struggle for reforms and transitional demands is now the indicated way the British working class and the labour movement can revive is the old argument, advanced by Trotsky in his founding manifesto for the "Fourth International" in 1938. That socialist consciousness will develop out of the struggle for reforms within capitalism: when workers realise that they can’t get the reforms they have been campaigning for they will, Trotsky declared, turn to the "cadres" of the Fourth International for leadership. Quite apart from the fact that this has never happened, this argument has always been more of a rationalisation of their reformist practice by shamefaced reformists who want to imagine that they are revolutionaries.

The socialist position is indeed that all reformism needs to be opposed and that socialists do not seek to attract support by advocating reforms, as no series of reforms can ever solve the problems inherent to capitalism. In addition, advocating a reform programme would attract the support of non-socialists and because a voluntary, co-operative society like socialism can only ever be created by a majority of convinced, conscious socialists, this would be counter-productive.

Any socialists elected to parliament would consistently expose reformism for its inability to solve the problems of capitalism but may be prepared to consider on their merits particular, individual reforms (however rare in occurrence or few in number) that clearly benefited the working class or socialist movement, but always under democratic direction from the wider movement and without ever giving support to reformist organisations. But a blanket opposition to everything that does and can happen in capitalism. And to put it bluntly, in the guise of being supportive of working class interests and being true to socialist principles, they would involve actions (or sometimes, inaction) that was expressly contrary to the interests of the working class. This would be ridiculous and taken to its ultimate, logical conclusion would lead to the situation whereby socialists in parliament determinedly resolved to oppose all reform measures as a matter of course, even those of clear benefit to workers or the socialist movement (and by doing so inadvertently allying themselves with the forces of reaction to keep wars going, or oppose factory legislation and anything else that might benefit workers). The men and women who founded our Party realised the absurdity of this tactic a long time ago.

Reformism has been a failure, the more evident this become to people the better are our chance of achieving our goal, quickly.