Thursday, February 21, 2013

Protest and Survive 2

Any conception of socialism must include the empowerment of the working class to be the master of its own destiny. Whilst we can debate and sketch visions of what a future society might look like, all these discussions will prove meaningless unless we can find away to acquire the power required to make them concrete.  Given the seeming powerlessness of the working class at present what means can the working class be elevated to power?  In a sense the working class already has a massive latent power over society just waiting to be realised, the task then is unlocking this power. When workers are organised in accordance with their class interests they are better able to wield their latent power. The working class is the real agent of change. The slogan of “revolution” has been misused so blatantly that it has lost its meaning.  The workers’ movement is lacking political  clarity. The problem is the lack of of consciousness. Why don’t workers put an end to capitalism – given its destructiveness to humans and the environment. If you don’t know where you want to go, then no road will take you there.

To be a socialist means first and foremost to be on the side of the working class. Socialists are not against reforms but oppose reformism as a political practice. Socialists support any reform that will help the cause of the working class and the poor. The working class can win concessions but only for a certain period before the ruling class tries to take these reforms and concessions back. In a class society, the struggle between workers and the capitalist ruling class is of a permanent nature. The intensity of this class conflict and struggle can vary and there can be lulls at times. Both classes have different interests and clash with each other to protect and further their interests. The capitalist ruling class wants to exploit the working class to the maximum. On the other hand, the working class has no other option but to fight back for their survival.

Marx  explains that “The advance of capitalist production develops a working class which by education, tradition and habit looks upon the requirements of this mode of production as self-evident natural laws”, that “the organization of the capitalist process of production, once it is fully developed, breaks down all resistance”.  Marx added that capital’s generation of a reserve army of the unemployed “sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker”. Accordingly, the capitalist can rely upon the workers’ “dependence on capital, which springs from the conditions of production themselves, and is guaranteed in perpetuity by them”.

Of course, by necessity workers will often struggle, over wages, working conditions and the defence of past gains. But as long as workers look upon the requirements of capital as “self-evident natural laws”, those struggles occur within the bounds of the capitalist relation. Sooner or later the worker will accept his subordination to capital and the system keeps going. People commonly think that there is no alternative to the status quo. To go beyond capitalism, we need a vision that can appear to workers as an alternative common sense, as their common sense.

The struggles of workers against capital transform “circumstances and men”, expanding their capabilities and making them fit to create a new world Marx argued. Even though their goals in these struggles may be limited to ending the immediate violations of norms of fairness and justice and may be aimed, for example, at achieving no more than “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”, people change in the course of struggle. Despite the limited goals involved in wage struggles, Marx argued that they were essential for preventing workers “from becoming apathetic, thoughtless, more or less well-fed instruments of production”; without such struggles, workers “would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation”. People struggle over their conceptions of right and wrong, and what socialists attempt to do is to explain the underlying basis for those struggles. The moral campaigns for "rights" while acknowledging its importance to the working class there is also to go beyond them by articulating and showing what is implicit in these concepts and struggles are only to be contained within a new society.

 Marx pointed out, the root of exploitation under capitalism is not insufficient wages per se, or the depredations of finance. The process of exploitation under capitalism necessarily implies that for accumulation to take place on one end, the worker must be paid less than the value of their labour-time on the other. The more capitalist production expands, the less time the workers has for themselves. The struggle over exploitation is fundamentally the question of whether the worker has the time to fully develop her intellectual, social, and creative powers, or must devote this time instead to the reproduction of a hostile, alien, and benumbing society, with no time to call their own. This is a ‘bread and butter’ question in its own right. Socialism is to create a world where labour-time for all workers can be reduced to a minimum to leave the  maximum time for leisure pursuits, socializing, sports, art, music, writing, debating, and all those things that have been considered the good things in life. There is no known process of capitalism that can achieve this aim.

The establishment of socialism involves workers taking power themselves and exercising collective and democratic control over workplaces, and resource allocation through democratic planning, the complete democratisation of society.  Socialism is "a movement of the immense majority, acting in the interests of the majority".

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Protest and Survive

 Because of the crisis people are actually questioning capitalism, because they’re being forced to. Capitalist "truths" are being  delegitimatised by experience on the ground. People  are educating themselves but because of the nature of the economic crisis seen as a breakdown in Wall St they have become fixated on banking and finance capitalists. To paraphrase Marx; ’It is not enough that theory seeks people, people need to seek theory‘.  People need to use that education intelligently. If they do not become part of the solution, they may become part of the problem. So-called ‘experts’ offer solutions to  the economic woes of capitalism. But many of the remedies and supposed cures are throw-backs to earlier populist movements during previous depressions.

Liberals and Leftists alike argue that the economic crisis was caused by a lack of state regulation over the banks and financial markets. Consequently, they conclude that we just need new regulation to keep the financial sector in line. There's a confusion about what a capitalist state is. A capitalist state responds to and sponsors and facilitates markets. The notion that it's there to restrain markets, to restrain capitalism, that if only it would do that it would remove the contradictions of capitalism is simply a topsy-turvy way of seeing the world.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Gen on GM

There is so much real lying and bad behavior coming from the government and corporations some of them are based on actual facts that actually happen that almost anything is possible and believable. We've had enough experience where the mainstream media either helped the government and businesses to lie or failed to do its job and ask all the questions it should have. We live in a crazy world with a lot of real evil. So people look for foul play everywhere. There are many who are anti-genetic modification and socialists do not to discourage people from asking questions but we must be rigorous in assessing the messages, particularly if they are conflicting. Nor should we be have so open minded that our brains fall out. It was Marx who said "doubt everything". The internet can often give a loaded view of opinion. Genetic Modification is seen as controlling the food agencies. As socialists we are naturally cynical of capitalist motives. We see it in many spheres such as the pharmaceutical drug companies in need of strict oversight of their research results and their products because they desire to maximise profits over safety regardless of known risks.

Almost none of the crops or animals produced for food are natural. They have been artificially selected over millenia without much genetic knowledge, resulting in genetic drift and inbreeding, making them more susceptible to disease and other problems, hence e.g. potato blight. Proponents of GMO agriculture believe that genetic modifications can be used to increase yields or solve other problems like creating crop strains that store longer. They believe that the right modifications could help end hunger and increase economic growth. GM is not the solution to world hunger, it never will be. The problem of world hunger is not a shortage of food. There is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone well. GM isn't a miracle cure that will produce plants that make super bountiful harvest in the poorest of conditons.

Socialists hold no love of the big corporations. We fully understand the well-justified suspicion of big business. The only reason GM companies are peddling this technology is to make massive profits. That is the prime motivation for any corporate company. They do NOT care about feeding the world more efficiently nor about the many environmental questions which surround their products, if they can get away with it. Agriculture has evolved to benefit large companies and landowners. The focus is on maximising profit, not feeding the poor or saving the planet. Safe and sustainable production of food is a goal that all would agree with. The concerns are now about the cornering of such an essential to life by monopolies and commodity markets, which affect world stability for ALL countries. GM experiments only began to find cheap solutions to the problems that this monoculture, profit-focussed farming had created in the first place. Permaculture systems have already shown that we can grow a surplus of crops without the need for GM. "...when yield is measured in pounds per acre,small peasant and family farms regularly out-produce plantation agriculture.  Even the United States Department of Agriculture admits this. But because smallholders generally cultivate poly-cultures (multiple species and varieties in the same field at the same time) their per-acre yield of a *single* crop species is necessarily lower than an acre of monoculture -- after all, some of the field space is taken up by other crops. When the net primary productivity of all crops in the polyculture is considered, monocultures usually come in second in productivity....In reality, none of the industrial plantations actually grow food for the hungry -- they grow feed and fuel for the meat and energy appetites of the planet's middle classes. Contrary to corporate myth, smallholder agriculture -- not industrial agriculture -- feeds most of the world." We already produce enough for 10 billion and we still have almost a billion going hungry. They are hungry because they are poor and can't afford to buy the food already being produced.

We oppose the technological lock-in. (The way that once used the producer HAS to buy the related products, and next year's, seed from the same supplier.) This is essentially an anti-trust problem not a matter of unsafe food. They are doing it for the benefit of their shareholders - that's their main concern. It's called Capitalism. GM is about profit, it is and that's one of the major problems. The crops are produced to produce revenue for the GM companies, by fostering dependence on their seed supply, there chemicals, and their intellectual property. The effect on human health and the ecosystem is an after thought. Socialism will not produce single-generation seeds as the GM companies are selling to farmers in India. The crops are deliberately engineered to produce infertile seeds and the farmers are forced to buy from the GM companies again the next year. But in capitalism many seed companies, including the organic ones, sell only F1 hybrids which produce sterile seeds. The Plant Patent Act of 1930 in the USA and similar legislation elsewhere allows plants developed by sporting, mutation, hybridisation or seedlings to be patented provided they are not uncultivated or tuberous. This gives the patent-holder the right to exclusively reproduce the plant asexually or license such rights. The real risk to wild salmon is not GM salmon but anti-biotic fed farmed salmon.

While critics of GMO food have highlighted risks of using GMO seeds to the environment, to public health, to food sovereignty, and to the livelihoods of small-farmer producers UNORCA seem most concerned with the potential damage that GMO corn can have on the global diversity of the genetic stock of corn. At issue is the cultural significance of maize to the farmers, who call themselves the People of Corn. "In our country there are more than 60 native species and thousands of local varieties of maize which . . . carry important virtues thanks to their selection and adaptation by indigenous peoples over more than seven thousand years" The major concern is the potential for the GMO corn to lead to the genetic contamination of native and organic varieties of corn. UNORCA believes that there is “a grave risk that transgenes could contaminate our criole and native varieties of this grain, especially because there are no barriers to the wind and the insects that are responsible for cross-pollination." This could result in a loss of diversity in corn varieties.

Scientific America reported earlier this month, the current global corn crop is becoming increasingly susceptible to a fungus that is highly carcinogenic and can poison and kill people and livestock. The fungus, aspergillus, causes aflatoxicosis, a condition in which victims are fatally poisoned; this is expected to become more prevalent as a result of climate change. There is to date no conclusive evidence that a traditional corn variety could be more resistant to the fungus than a genetically engineered one, but the fungal infection is just one of many possible reasons to preserve the biodiversity of global seed-stocks as one of these varieties could prove to be resistant. Fungus contamination is a true threat, having destroyed half of the corn crop of Missouri last year, up from last year, when it destroyed eight percent of the state’s corn crop.

In the US a lot of GM crops are self certified by the companies that produce them. Much of our criticism of the pharmaceutical industry is the same. We recognise Big Ag and Big Pharma for what they are - profiteers. There's little wrong with the science of GM, it's the business model that's rotten. So far we do not foresee any real health issues from GM but remember Carl Sagan's words of caution "The absence of proof is not proof of absence"

In Europe GM undergo "endless trials and tests and endure endless amounts of bureaucracy. Yet new breeds of standard crops have no such problems, even though they are often created by exposing them to doses of radiation. This is done to create new mutant breeds which you can then grow to see if any have features you like. None of the regulations that we had to meet in creating golden rice were imposed on these plant breeders. Yet this is the standard means by which new crops, including organic crops, are created. It is manifestly unbalanced."  It took 13 years to get the go-ahead for GM potatos although they were not for human coonsumption but for the industrial use of their starch content. According to BASF's Jennifer Moore-Braun, it wasn't just the lack of enthusiasm among European consumers and farmers for growing GM poatoes - it was the lack of political support, with no sign of that changing. "No-one from the political side supported it. There were no signals from the European Commission that any change was likely" Ultimately the reason BASF has stopped producing GM potatoes is because they could not achieve a profitable share of the market. BASF said it was moving its biotech headquarters to the United States where domestic laws on it are different from other parts of the world and halting the commercialisation of GM products for the European market.

This discussion on GM is not just an abstract scientific exchange but a real world political issue for many. Monsanto plans to plant one million hectares of maize corn in Mexico. The National Union of Autonomous Regional Peasant Organizations (UNORCA) and La Via Campesina (The Farmer’s Way), an international organization of peasants and small farmers advocating for food sovereignty, condemned it as a betrayal of the peasants in the interest of foreign multinationals.

According to the official statement by UNORCA "there is not a single technological, economic, or ethical reason in benefit of the Mexican population nor of the majority of rural producers that justifies the imminent authorization of commercial planting of GMO maize in Mexico...The key to increasing food production in the countryside, reducing poverty and ending hunger does not lie with GMOs. This is an extremely costly technology, which does not increase yields, causes more dependence on imported seeds and farm chemicals, and provides no advantage to confronting the challenges of climate change . . . Mexico’s agro-food crisis is not of technological origin but rather is a product of an economic model, where hunger is not a result of scarcity, but rather of lack of adequate income to access food.”

UNORCA explains that maize is the main food product consumed in Mexico, accounting for 39 percent of protein and 53 percent of calories in the country. They claim that the public health effects of “transgenic tortillas” have not been adequately researched and that the precautionary principle should apply. The precautionary principle says that there should be clear proof that something is not harmful to public health or the environment before it be allowed.

"Smallholders can't afford the expensive seeds, fertilizers, Roundup, 2-4D (Roundup-ready corn is designed to allow the widespread application of Monsanto’s best-selling pesticide without damaging the crop.) and all the attendant pesticides that GMO crops now require. Further, they are not needed. The science and practice of agroecology allows farmers to manage the agroecosystem itself to manage pests and maintain soil fertility by increasing, not decreasing biodiversity...Smallholders that switch over to GMO monocultures risk going broke and starving. Further, monocultures do not produce food for smallholder families or their communities but for the global commodity markets where small farmers are unable to compete with the market power of the industrial plantations."

 India is also a very particular target for growing GM because of large scale rejections of GM crop in Europe, many parts of Africa and Latin America. For these corporations, there are only two big potential markets – India and China. "Everybody knows it is impossible to influence Chinese policy because they are very determined about what they want and what not. India is perceived as a soft target with a big market and therefore a huge amount of propaganda is directed towards India and Indian policy making"  according to Suman Sahai, geneticist, Padma Shree awardee and winner of 2004 Borlaug Award for contribution to agriculture and environment ." As a scientist, geneticist, this is my subject. It is the scientists who are asking for regulation and precaution right from the beginning. The (GM) industry is trying to cut corners on regulation because adequate bio-safety testing costs money. It is my firm belief that had this technology been purely in public sector it would still be in the laboratory. It would only come to market after it was sufficiently and properly tested. If you want to engage in science and technology that has a downside – any potential risk of the GM product having an allergenic component – but potential for benefits, then you have to be super careful to evaluate safety."

Pushpa M Bhargava, biotechnologist, Padma Shree awardee and founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad "In science, we go by evidence. Nothing has been added to the evidence that we have for or against the GM crop. Opinion is completely irrelevant in science if it is not based on evidence, existing or new. In science, if we ever change our opinion we always give reasons. Firstly, we must make a socio-economic assessment whether there is a problem at all. We had a problem in case of cotton but not for brinjal at all. Secondly, we must see if alternatives are available to the GM technology. In case of cotton, there was a problem but there were alternatives – integrated pest management, bio-pesticides and organic agriculture. So we didn’t need it. Third, if it turns out that we need GM crop we must go through a very strict safety assessment. This has not been done for any GM crop (in India). Nearly 30 tests need to be conducted. Out of these, about six tests have been done and that to, done badly. So for all practical purposes, no safety assessment has been done. Therefore, a moratorium [in India] on GM crop is justified.

Vandana Shiva, another Indian environmentalist writes:
"Safety has emerged as an overpowering conce­rn - safety of women and children, tribals, farmers and rural communities, safety from nuclear hazard, and en­vironmental as well as health hazards of GMOs. Across India, protests and movements are also growing about the safety of people's resources and wealth - their land, their forests, their rivers, their property - in the context of the violent resource grab that is the basis of the new "growth" economy. Sadly, this culture is shrouded in the garb of neo-liberal paradigms of economics in which there is no life, no values, no ethics, no community, no society, no people, no justice, no place for equality, dignity and people's rights, no place for freedom and democracy, just money and markets...
...The movement for nuclear safety is a movement for freedom - we do not need nuclear energy when the sun and wind are so generous; we do not need GMOs when biodiversity and ecological agriculture produces more, safer and better food.
For two years in a row, at his address to the In­dian Science Cong­re­ss, Prime Minister Manm­o­han Singh has tried to criminalise the citizen's movements for nuclear safety and biosafety. But his is not a lone voice. He is an echo of the stru­c­tu­red money-making sy­s­tem that wants no bre­­a­ks in its money-making, including the break that is necessary for ensuring safety. That is why he called for a "structured" debate on nuclear energy and GMOs, not a democratic debate.
A nuclear industry des­perate to make profits at any cost must cri­mi­nalise communities and citizens insisting on their democratic right to safety and freedom from hazards. A GMO industry desperate to make pro­fits at any cost will extract royalties from poor farmers even tho­ugh the royalty extracti­on pushes farmers to commit suicide.
It will try to dismantle biosafety laws and replace th­em with a deregulation framework of the Bio­tec­h­nology Re­gu­latory Au­th­ority of India (Brai). It will criminalise real scientists and put PR spinners in the position of pretend scientists, using all the power of money to control the media for its false, unscientific claim that without GMOs we will all starve, and that GMOs are safe.
At a meeting on the new biotechnologies cal­led "Laws of Life" in 1987, when I asked the representatives of in­du­s­try what safety tests they had done on the GMOs they were planning to release in the environment, I was told that safety issues could not be addressed be­ca­use that would slow do­wn the commercialisation of GMOs and lead to lo­sses of markets and pr­ofits. For 25 years, the in­du­stry has tried to ignore and suppress iss­u­es of biosafety.
For 25 years, we have kept the is­sue of safety alive as an issue of science, freedom and democracy. One aspect of that safety as freedom is the right to say no to hazards im­po­s­ed in the name on pro­g­r­e­ss. The other aspect is to create sustainable, sa­fe and just alternatives. Safety is freedom beca­use everyone - women, children, indigenous cu­l­tures, ordinary citize­ns, life-forms that weave the tapestry of biodiversity - has a natural ri­g­ht to safety...
... there is no antidote in the system. The antidote will come from a change in values and worldview, from people's movements for ch­ange from capitalist pa­triarchy to earth democracy based on the rights of all people."

Vandana Shiva is director of Navdanya and the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy. Hers is a compelling argument against the use of GM crops on various levels - impoverishment and poisoning of the soil from chemical fertilisers and herbicides needed in conjunction with GM seeds; unnecessary release of greenhouse gases adding to the climate change problems from use of same chemicals; failure of GM crops to deliver what they promise in terms of yields, control of insects/bugs and weeds, often giving rise to super bugs and super weeds within a few short years. Navdanya was founded about 25 years ago and they work with 1,000s of small farmers in a number of states in India (they also have an informative web site) where the philosophy is organic and mixed crop farming. Their research shows conclusively that this method of farming is far superior to both small scale monocrop and industrial scale GM farming for both yield and income.
For instance, after all purchasing factors are taken into consideration (seed, fertilisers, herbicides, fuel for machinery) then biodiverse ecological farming using native seeds yielded incomes 2-3 times higher than small scale monoculture and an amazing 8-9 times higher than industrial systems using genetically engineered seeds. The point of mixed crops, diversity, is that of resilience; this kind of farming protects against frost, drought, too much or too little rain, too early or too late rain - unlike monocrops which if affected by the weather or a blight etc is vulnerable to the whole lot being lost.

 241,679 farmers in India committed suicide between 1995 and 2009.  400 a day attempt suicide and fail. The cause is mainly debt. Farmers' wives are not included inthe statistics. The Monsanto Bt seed has flooded the Indian market, to the extent that in some Indian states it is now impossible to buy non-Bt seed, despite the unconvincing evidence to its efficacy. With no choice and convinced by blanket advertising and misleading demonstrations made in ideal conditions, 95% of farmers take loans and invest in GM Bt seeds that, the New York Times (16/10/12) report, “can cost three to eight times the cost of conventional seeds”. In addition to authorized distributors a black market has thrived, that as shortages appear, can set “prices as high as 2,000 rupees ($38) per packet, leading to a profusion of bootlegged seeds illegally marketed as genetically modified products.” Again not an issue of safety but of capitalist monopoly.

150 scientists have written a letter to the environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan on Saturday raising concerns about genetically modified (GM) crops. Their primanry concern is that Ministry of Agriculture is allegedly making a case for GM crops by stating that the technology is 'absolutely needed' for India's food security. The scientists in their letter said that there are "many serious scientific and policy fallacies" in the argument. The letter tries to dissociate the issue of food production with shortcomings of distribution. "Food security, is a problem not only of production but of distribution and access/purchasing power. Today India's paradox of overflowing godowns/rotting grains, with 320 million people going hungry is well-known. The world over and in India, most of the hungry people are ironically partaking in the food production process. Clearly hunger is a more multi-faceted problem than what can be fixed by using a particular seed or cocktail of chemicals," it explained. The letter said: "An overwhelming majority of countries worldwide do not grow GM crops. They are grown on a mere 160 million hectares that comprise 3.2% of the global agriculture land. Just four crops cover 99% of the area under GM crops: soybean (47%), maize (32%), cotton (15%) and canola (5%)." They quoted US Economic Research Service's report for 2011, which says: 17.9 million households were food insecure at some point in the year. "This means that an unprecedented 50.1 million people (1 in every 6 Americans) live in food insecure households in this nation that has the largest area under GM crop cultivation in the world, after having begun commercializing crops with this controversial technology way back in 1996." It said. Who the scientists are and what their qualifications are is not included in the article unfortunately. But the challenge they present is social issues not scientific. GM as a cure for hunger as promoted by its advocates is indeed in question.

However, apart from the cost Bt cottonseed demands a great deal more water (which in many countries is being privatised), a fact that is being hidden from Indian farmers
unable to read the English instructions and water warnings on seed packaging.  With poor irrigation, most farmers rely on rainfall to feed crops. When the monsoon rains fail, so does the crop, leaving the farmer with a massive debt to service.

Corporations are eager to "commercialize the countryside" as the article  GM is just one way they use and we can add land-grab as another.

Conventional Herbicides/ Insecticides failed in what the companies had promised. Super weeds and decreasing yields are the result. Now GM crops increased chemical usage in American agriculture by 183 million kilos since the beginning of its adoption there. "Two thirds of GM crops approved in the US contain the hitherto unidentified viral gene, but although regulators have insufficient information to determine if it is safe for human consumption EFSA has opted for a retrospective review rather than a ban."

"...when yield is measured in pounds per acre,small peasant and family farms regularly out-produce plantation agriculture.  Even the United States Department of Agriculture admits this. But because smallholders generally cultivate poly-cultures (multiple species and varieties in the same field at the same time) their per-acre yield of a *single* crop species is necessarily lower than an acre of monoculture -- after all, some of the field space is taken up by other crops. When the net primary productivity of all crops in the polyculture is considered, monocultures usually come in second in productivity"
In reality, none of the industrial plantations actually grow food for the hungry -- they grow feed and fuel for the meat and energy appetites of the planet's middle classes. Contrary to corporate myth, smallholder agriculture -- not industrial agriculture -- feeds most of the world.

But GM needs investigation and we support the research. But as always the problem is acquiring scientific information. One vested interest with the cash provides the funds for the research and holds back the details for "commercial confidential" to other researchers. We have to distinguish between genetic modification development used for the public good, and those that are motivated by profit for  whatever will sell well, for instance  a tomato with 6 month shelf-life and no flavour.
Genetic modification of the Escherichia coli bacteria to produce Human insulin has immeasurably enhanced the lives of millions of diabetics.  The disease preventitive qualities of enriched Vitamin A rice cannot be ignored. GM is not going away, nor can the endless flood of new technologies be stopped. We need to be better educated. The emphasis probably shouldn't be on health risks to us. It is the potential effects on wildlife and food chains that have more serious implications because no one can predict the effects. As one critic notes
"...If the companies had really sought from the start to develop traits useful to people and farmers, rather than to create massive profits for themselves, it might now have become a technology to change the world..."

It is conceivable that the two billion or so smallholders that presently feed over half the world could be replaced by 50 million industrial farms. These could (albeit not terribly sustainably) produce enough food to feed the 10 billion people we expect on the planet by 2050. But in capitalism where would all the displaced farmers go? There is no new industrial revolution on the horizon to sop up all this surplus labor. Urban migration rates are already far too high and above required labor needs, generating droves of unemployed 'refugees' of industrial agriculture, who have lost the means to sustain themselves and their communities.  Why is the science of ecological sustainable agriculture  and its tremendous potential consistently ignored? Quite simply, Big Money. The monopolies in the fuel, chemical and agri-foods industries must dominate global markets and continually expand their land-based operations in order to ensure a 3% compound return rate to their shareholders. If they don't, their stock will fall. Staying in the game requires monopoly control of the world's seeds, inputs, grain and processing.

There is sufficient economic and social, sufficient evidence to be guarded against the expansion of GM agriculture within the capitalist system and enough to be cautious in suggesting that it will be used extensively in a socialist society. We start from where we take over, which means that for a time GM animal feed and elsewhere in the food chain will continue to used, but it doesn't mean for always. It also may involve expanding GM. Who knows what a neutral unbiased science concludes when there are no vested interest, or pressing time-lines? We now have GM salmon about to make its appearance on the supermarket shelves. Not to feed a hungry world  but because it reduces a company's costs and increases its profits. The threat to safety is out-weighed by the bank balance. But we should not restrict our criticism to simply GM. The existing farmed salmon is already an environmental threat with the over-use of anti-biotics. The contradiction is while we all depend upon food and farming the whole food industry is a danger to life on Earth. Health and safety issues arise almost daily, the latest being adulteration of cheap burgers. There is a million and two different environmental campaigns with the common feature that it is the £ and the $ against the "precautionary principle"

Our fight is to show that for 99% of our current and future needs we have enough already. Abundance already exists. If faced by a shortage of one material we have alternative sources which does not involve the intensification of the extraction process for the original source to the detriment of the environment. Report after report explains that more conservation and less waste is a better solution than constant growth. Our case against capitalism is a "holistic" one yet many still wage all their individual battles and wars as isolated individual campaigns . We are not anti-GM or anti-fracking and we are not pro-organic and pro-local food. We are anti-capitalist because commercial vested interests is the fundamental problem of the science, not the particular technologies.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tomorrow Today

Everything that happens birth, death and all the stuff in between are  treated as commodities, purchased, rented and leased as units of marketable goods. In this economy the creation of  profit for the minority comes first and foremost and benefits for the majority public is secondary. The motivating force of the capitalist system is the never-ending quest for profits and accumulation. It must continually expand. It impacts on every aspect of people's lives. We can’t just reform the current system. There can be no lasting solution to the world’s economic and environmental crises as long as capitalism remains the social system on this planet.

People demanding change are not united in focusing on the political economics at the root of most global problems but they are moving in that direction. This shows that many can understand the situation.  Because of the crisis people are actually questioning capitalism, because they’re being forced to. Capitalist "truths" are being  delegitimatised by experience on the ground. People are talking, reading, and thinking.  Many people understand that we have reached a critical turning point that demands radical change in how and why we produce the means of supporting  life to the advantages of a shrinking minority which amasses incredible wealth while the vast majority are living in or fast approaching a status close to poverty. How do we unite in a way where we keep the diversity of multiple movements but still work together in solidarity? The answer is a common vision. If a movement does not have some vision of what it wants to become, it cannot know whether it is heading in the right direction or not. Capitalism constantly throws up alternative futures for itself. There is so much mythologized that ignorance is more common than knowledge even among the best informed.

Many speculate and forecast the future where the liberatory hopes of the past, and the confidence in the collective power of our class has given way to the uncertain hope and pessimism. The idea that the worse things get, the better they will be for revolutionary prospects dominates the thinking of some on the Left. If conditions become dire, then the blinkers with fall from the eyes of the misled masses is their logic. So if worsening conditions make it more favourable for radical change, then it requires these "radicals" to make matters  worse to hasten the break-down, regardless that it brings repression down upon others and lends itself to developing various forms of authoritarianism within the Left. 

Periods of radical social upheaval have followed economic crises. But there is nothing preordained that suffering and lower living standards automatically prompt workers to radical collective action. Workers can sek different ways to cope, some of which would not win the approval of the Left. Historically, workers often take actions, even collective ones, to shut other workers out of better jobs based on race, ethnicity, or gender—such as “hate strikes” by white workers against the hiring or promotion of workers of color. Innumerable acts of solidarity and resistance, of course, mark the history of capitalism. But they are not the only recourse to which members of the working class resort in hard times. It behooves socialists to construct a politics that categorically rejects this catastrophism. No amount of fire and brimstone can substitute for the often-protracted, difficult, and frequently unrewarding work of building up workers class consciousness. No serious socialist group can afford to abandon socialist education.

The science of ecology gives us powerful tools for understanding how nature functions — as interrelated, integrated ecosystems. It gives us essential insights into humanity’s impact on the environment, but it lacks a serious political social analysis. There exists a reformist fallacy that capitalists foreseeing an environmental apocalyptical future would stop investing their capital in unethical enterprises. Capitalists are the servants (“the functionaries” as Marx described them) of capital. They cannot but accumulate more and more capital: that is their function. Let us suppose that many capitalists do perceive that their interests are facing an ecological threat. What good would it do them to withdraw their capital? The capitalists are incapable of class unity, and no sooner would one withdraw investment than another would take his place as a new functionary of capital.

Socialism can make an ecologically balanced world possible, which is impossible under capitalism. The needs of people and the planet will be the driving forces of the economy, rather than profit. It will set about  restoring ecosystems and re-establishing agriculture and industry based on environmentally sound principles. The only way we can change the world is to be fighting for the goal of socialism today. The longer we take to get started, the harder it will be

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The renewal of the class struggle

The long-term decline in union membership is certainly not good news. The need for unions is greater than it’s ever been. Workers are better off being union members than not, if for no other reason than union workers enjoy a clear wage advantage ($200 more per week on average) relative to their non-union counterparts. Considering the fact that the bottom 60% of American workers have seen their wages stagnate over the last 30 years, that’s no small matter. Most labor proponents will agree that as the proportion of union members rises, the collective bargaining power of workers increases. The inverse is also true—when density falls, labor's power declines.

 Despite our labor movement’s long-term erosion, there are still 14.4 million union members in the U.S. French unions have repeatedly demonstrated their ability in recent years to mobilize millions of workers (union and non-union alike) in working class struggles. To be sure, they don’t always win. The U.S. at over 10% is  higher than union density in France, where it’s about 8% of the workforce and in the U.S. many unions still command prodigious financial resources and employ a small army of organizers, researchers, lawyers, and other highly skilled staff. Despite labor’s long decline, there are still tens of millions of union members in the US, many of whom are located in strategic positions in the political economy. .

United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard  got to the heart of the matter:  " I actually believe that Americans believe in their political system more than workers do in other parts of the world,”

The militancy of workers has been channeled towards ‘productivism’ – increasing the economic pie and enlarging the individual's consumption of its slice.

 If only 5% of U.S. unionists acquired a class consiousness and long-term vision for a new type of society, there would be 750,000 political activists. The fundamental contradiction of unions in a capitalist society is that they are fundamentally sectional organizations. Unions emerged out of the working class but they are not class organizations. They bring together sections of workers with a common work-place or trade who look to the union to represent their particular interests. Class war against workers demands a class response. Unionism, even when militant, was no match for the employers and the state attacks. Unions can’t become revolutionary organizations unless they develop a class sensibility in their strategies and practices. The goal is to build the working class as a social force. We have to build up an army for class war.

There's a million ways that you can take labor power and bargain. There's a million ways that you can think of actually saying to the rank and file membership, what else is going on in your life? What else matters to you? What's happening to the workers around them, and what's happening to the workers that you seek to organize, and what's happening to all of their families? Marx talked a lot about how workers in a big industrial setting would learn about their own oppression. But it's not just the workplace.

The iconic large factory that seemed so vulnerable to unionization is less and less common. Most employees now work in isolated small units like retail stores and fast food outlets, or social services. It means organizing workers, not the job, providing union membership to individuals even if there is no collective bargaining relationship.  Or the catalyst could be a your neighbourhood.  We can help deepen people's understanding of what's wrong with the system that we're living under is by extending the education cycle so that they understand it isn't just their boss who is making them miserable at work, it's how their boss is connected to the local town government, and how city-hall is also destroying their life in their neighborhood. The best way to do that is for the union itself to help carry the workers into both fights. Workers’ centers can be a potential focus of labor renewal. The experiences and skills they develop could contribute to the building of a working class that can do more than just hope to hold back the tide. Local and regional workers' assemblies or open forums can be created, facilitating and linking these workplace groups across workplaces and other dimensions of workers’ lives, supporting workplace activists in bringing a class perspective that combines with the socialist ideological perspective which challenges the logic of capitalism itself They would be about making socialists and fostering a socialist culture through actual daily experience and struggle. How do we unite in a way where we keep the diversity of multiple movements but still work together in solidarity?  The answer is a common vision.

For socialists it is largely the question of whether we can begin engaging the union movement, the social movements, and radicals in challenging capitalism. We have to be able to argue that capitalism is bad even when its working well, that capitalism is now a barrier to human development.  We need to recognize that we're fighting capitalism. What socialists have to offer is making connections between people across workplaces, bringing in a class analysis so they seem it’s not just them. They can never win if it’s just a few of them against the state. They have to see there’s actually a class involved here. Giving them some alternatives, giving them some historical memory, so they see how workers did this—in fact in more difficult circumstances in the past. Giving them some comparative analysis of what’s going on in Greece and elsewhere—how did people organize. So that we can play a role in terms of bringing a class perspective, resources, memory into the picture. It is to be a bridge—responding to practical and immediate things, but putting them in that kind of a larger context. Because without that kind of larger context we’re losing and we’re going to continue to lose. What’s really abstract is pretending that these kinds of questions don’t matter.

Unions are still important defensive institutions but we have to go beyond their sectionalism where they represent their members or they represent workers at a particular company when people are voting on the basis of “does this help me in particular, even if it screws other workers?,” with no sense of if you’re screwing other workers how that might come back to bite you in the longer term. We should be talking bout a new type of trade unionism,  a much broader class organization. Those who are trying to defend unions by saying “they’re okay, don’t attack them, just carry on ” are actually doing the unions any favor. There’s a perception in the broad public that unions are mostly interested in themselves. It seems that the union leadership thinks it has a product to sell. That product is a contract and certain privileges in wages and benefits. That seems to foster a perception among the broad public that unions just don’t care about the working class as a whole.  It means they have to develop a class perspective and  be driven by that class perspective. A new form of working-class organization, that would see workers as joining them, linking them across unions. Having networks of activists across unions, so it isn’t just a union with a sectional interest, but it’s workers joining something because they see it as a class interest, and that it also expresses all the other dimensions of their lives. So it’s linked to the community as an organisation facing more than a particular employer. That would a revolution inside unions—a massive cultural change.

Unions didn’t come out of people sitting down and practically saying, “what are the rules, what are the constraints, and how do we operate within them?” They figured out how you actually have to break rules, how you have to change them, how you have to mobilize broadly. If you accept the status quo you’re sending a signal to the master class that they can keep doing it to you.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Tadeusz Borowski

“The world is ruled by neither justice nor morality; crime is not punished nor virtue rewarded, one is forgotten as quickly as the other. The world is ruled by power and power is obtained with money. To work is senseless, because money cannot be obtained through work, but through exploitation of others. And if we cannot exploit as much as we wish, at least let us work as little as we can. Moral duty? We believe neither in the morality of man nor in the morality of systems.” ― Tadeusz Borowski, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (12 November 1922 – 1 July 1951)

Tadeusz Borowski was a Polish writer, a resistance fighter and an Auschwitz and Dachau survivor. Borowski painted a picture of the concentration camps where humankind was without benevolence, without compassion; lacking empathy, lacking mercy; inexorable, ruthless, and malevolent; a savage, brutal animal devoid of morals but obedient to laws. Borowski believed there was no crime a man would not commit to save himself.

“Despite the madness of war, we lived for a world that would be different. For a better world to come when all this is over. And perhaps even our being here is a step towards that world. Do you really think that, without the hope that such a world is possible, that the rights of man will be restored again, we could stand the concentration camp even for one day? It is that very hope that makes people go without a murmur to the gas chambers, keeps them from risking a revolt, paralyses them into numb inactivity. It is hope that breaks down family ties, makes mothers renounce their children, or wives sell their bodies for bread, or husbands kill. It is hope that compels man to hold on to one more day of life, because that day may be the day of liberation. Ah, and not even the hope for a different, better world, but simply for life, a life of peace and rest. Never before in the history of mankind has hope been stronger than man, but never also has it done so much harm as it has in the war, in this concentration camp. We were never taught how to give up hope, and this is why today we perish in gas chambers.”

Ruth Franklin in the Sept. 24 issue of The New Republic:

“This Auschwitz, in contrast to the myths that sprang up immediately in the war's aftermath, is not a place of martyrdom or heroism. It is a place where inmates higher up in the camp hierarchy, the Polish political prisoners and others with special privileges, jeer at the Jews and Gypsies lower on the totem pole; where even a minor offense will be brutally avenged; where a prisoner, wondering if his girlfriend might have been sent to the gas chamber, muses, `So what, what's gone is gone.’ All this is recounted in a chillingly unsentimental and brazenly nihilistic voice that emphasizes its own detachment from the horrors that it records. Yet this detachment, it soon becomes clear, is a literary device for containing the speaker's fury, which bubbles up between the lines of each story even as he tries to choke it back.”
Jan Kott in his introduction to the Penguin edition writes: “Borowski describes Auschwitz like an entomologist. The image of ants recurs many times, with their incessant march, day and night, night and day, from the ramp to the crematorium and from the barracks to the baths. The most terrifying thing in Borowski’s stories is the icy detachment of the author.”
After the war believed that the Polish Communist Party was the only political force truly capable of preventing any future Auschwitz from happening. He eventually became completely disillusioned with the regime. He committed suicide by gassing himself at the age of 28 three days after his wife gave birth to their daughter.

The capitalist class are men who have traded their soul for the accumulation of profit. The world is not ruled by justice or morality, it is ruled by power. Capitalists control presidents and parliaments. They disdain the opinions of the common peoples of the world. They ridicule the organizations that have been established to protect the Earth and promote peace. Their end determines their actions; their laws supersede all others.

“You know how much I used to like Plato. Today i realize he lied. For the things of this world are not a reflection of the ideal, but a product of human sweat, blood and hard labour. It is we who built the pyramids, hewed the marble for the temples and the rocks for the imperial roads, we who pulled the oars in the galleys and dragged wooden ploughs, while they wrote dialogues and dramas, rationalized their intrigues by appeals in the name of the Fatherland, made wars over boundaries and democracies. We were filthy and died real deaths. They were 'aesthetic' and carried on subtle debates.
There can be no beauty if it is paid for by human injustice, nor truth that passes over injustice in silence, nor moral virtue that condones it.”

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Capitalist reality

Since its establishment capitalists have identified two key elements of class power: mobilization of public opinion and control of the State. The masters of capital have taught the working class a priceless lesson. You will not get what you want unless you mobilize in order to capture State power, i.e. power to turn the State into one whose dominant objective is to further the interests of the working population. It’s not impossible; it only looks that way. To secure class interests the goal is a political one.

At no point in history was capitalism able to operate "profitably" without first committing a massive theft of resources. In England this was termed The Enclosures and began when the wealthy wanted to export wool to Spain. They enclosed the commons where the peasantry traditionally could obtain wood and water and grow subsistence crops. This process continued and was repeated many times. The conquest of the Americas and Australasia can be interpreted as the greatest enclosure in human history. The Enclosures tells us: Private wealth comes from the enclosure of the common wealth via state intervention on the side of the incipient capitalist class. In other words, state sanctioned robbery for private benefit. The state is not a neutral actor. David Harvey calls this process "accumulation by dispossession." It goes on today all the time. Capital has always needed and used the state to fix the process in their favor and to murder and remove inconvenient people impeding the process of (as Marx termed it) primitive accumulation.

Knowing this is important when debating the right libertarians (or propertarians) about capitalism. Libertarians claim that what we have today is a form of corrupted capitalism. We just need to get the "state out of the way." We just need to get back the "genuine" capitalism of yore. But history shows us that that corruption was enabled by the state and christened the dawn of the capitalist era. The role of the state is key to the profitability of capital. There is no uncorrupted capitalist past to go back to. The modern day propertarian libertarians represent the interests of small capital, that is, the petit bourgeoisie. This pretty much explains their ideology. They oppose the power of big capital and its control over the state (that's where their program seems to coalesce with the reformist left). But their program is attached to a capitalism that never existed. It has never been the case that small capital was hegemonic. It is big capital that makes the rules by which the small capitalist plays. The libertarians use the language of "freedom" and "liberty" and individual entrepreneurship to build an ideological framework to build a mass base for what is really a reactionary program. They want a share of the action that big business enjoys. We are a cooperative species, living in communities and with complex social relationships. "Running our own lives" as a proposed response to social issues is the problem and can never be the solution.

It is true that with class societies such as slavery and feudalism, we were severely exploited and once capitalism emerged we became “free,” - free of what allowed us to live, land and tools. To survive, we were forced to become wage laborers.  In capitalism our capacity to work thus became a commodity, something bought and sold. The buyers, our employers, owned this capacity just as they owned the buildings, and like any privately owned property, the owners were legally free to use our labor power as they saw fit.

Our bosses hired managers who had one goal — to see to it that their companies made as much money as possible. Then the capitalists took the profits and expanded their businesses. To make these things happen, they did whatever they could to convert as much of our labor power as possible into actual work effort. Capitalists herded us into factories, so that they could watch us and make sure we worked with due diligence for as long as possible each day. Factory whistles told us when to begin and when to end our daily labors; failure to obey their commanding sounds resulted in us being disciplined or fired. The managers who observed us discovered that dividing tasks into simpler details made us more efficient. Why not, they reasoned, assign different workers to each detail, and in this way economize on skilled labor and lower the overall cost of producing a pair of shoes, a straight pin, or a piece of meat. When they had to, they hired women and children to do the least skilled jobs; they got the kids from orphanages when we wouldn’t send our children into the dark, satanic mills. Repetitive detail work lent itself to the introduction of machinery. Soon series of mechanically connected machines were  configured into assembly lines. These controlled more completely the pace and intensity of our work. In Karl Marx’s famous words, we became “appendages to the machines.”

The great capitalists organized the markets in which we toiled so that core firms—automobile manufacturing plants, for example—were surrounded by parts supplier plants—such as those producing automobile steering assemblies. The supplier companies delivered the parts “just-in-time,” that is, only when needed by the core companies, thus saving money on inventories, storage space, and, most importantly, our labor. Employers also used modern electronic technology and the enormous pool of underutilized labor worldwide to offshore and outsource as much production as possible to places with lower wages. They used their tremendous political power to get governments to do their bidding: through laws, subsidies, tax breaks, and austerity measures that raised our economic insecurity.

 In this richest of countries, nearly 28 percent of all jobs pay a wage that, with full-time, year-round work, would not support a family of four at the meager official poverty level of income ($23,021 in 2011). Wages have stagnated in terms of purchasing power for the past forty years; for production and nonsupervisory private sector workers they are barely higher today than in 1973. Fewer and fewer of us have pensions other than social security, which itself has become less generous. The same can be said for health care, paid vacations and holidays, and paid leaves, none of which are legally mandated. Unemployment and part-time work threaten all of us, and insufficient employment is made more likely both by the control mechanisms described above (for example, the job displacement effects of mechanization and outsourcing) and the greater likelihood of financial meltdowns in the global economy.

 Capitalists use whatever legal and political entities they can bend to their will. The powers of the U.S. government and most state governments are bought. This is also true for most governments in the world and those that don't knuckle under are subject to military attack carried out by state power; the  government provides public and private thugs for capitalist enforcement actions. Capitalism lives on exploitation, destroys in order to expand endlessly and devours mindlessly anything in its path in order to grow without bounds. Socialists challenge those who deny the existence of an economic class division. We are fundamentally and increasingly a world divided between haves and have-nots. We have resisted control when we could. But whether we did or not, our work became ever more controlled and stressful.

Adapted from here

Sunday, February 03, 2013

A Political Revolution

In the system known as capitalism there is a class struggle between workers and capitalists and the reason is not difficult to understand. The means of production today are privately owned. A small section of society own all the factories, mines, mills, workshops and through that ownership they are able to live a life of ease and luxury. The other section owning nothing are forced to sell themselves as workers to the owners of property in order that they get food, clothing, shelter for themselves and their wives and children. The mode of production being commodity production for profit, the return to the worker takes the form of a money wage. This wage is the money expression of the value of the particular worker’s labour power. A navvy and an engineer received different amounts of money as wages but both of these workers received the value of his particular labour-power. This value was determined by how much it cost to produce his kind of labour power.

All commodities, labour-power included, had their values determined in the same way, by the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in them. In the process of production the worker produced a surplus over what as returned to them in the form of wages. This was the reason the capitalist employed them and was the sole aim of the capitalist system. The worker found through experience that their wage enabled them to purchase only the cheapest necessities of life and to maintain even this they had to continually struggle with their employer. To assist them in their struggles workers formed trade unions but still their lives are stories of poverty, degradation and misery.

Many political parties claim to exist only for the purpose of assisting the working class and have drawn up programmes of social reforms which they all guaranteed would, if the workers would only trust them and vote for them; solve all the ills which afflicted the working class. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has no reforms on its programme and is opposed to all parties who asked the workers to support a reformist policy. Reform of capitalism would still leave workers in their slave position. Reforms, apart from the fact that in many cases they had proven worse than the evil which they set out to remedy, were but the normal features of capitalism. Capitalism and their representatives had been busy reforming the capitalist system since it had been established but in spite of all their reforms the condition of the working class was worse today than ever it was in its history. Defenders of capitalism boast reform is the antidote to revolution.The parties of the Left with their ever-changing lists of reforms should be an example to the workers of the futility of wasting valuable time and energy attempting to reform a system which could not be reformed in the interests of the working class.

Social reform being no solution to the ills suffered by the workers the Socialist Party pointed out that all the evils could be traced to the one cause and to this one cause only – private property. Take a look around and see the signs “Private Property” or “No admittance except on business ”. To the socialist these were advertisements of the cause of poverty, slums, disease, crime, prostitution, war and all the other curses of the human race. Having found the one cause for all our troubles we find the remedy almost automatically - socialism. Abolish private property with production for profit and establish a new system of society based on common ownership with production for use. This is what socialism means.

This is something worthwhile fighting for and the way to achieve such a new system of society was by the workers first of all getting to understand their enslaved position in present day capitalism, to organise with others, in order to take revolutionary political action to control the State machine in order to transform society from the basis up. This meant the action of a class conscious majority of the workers. Minorities are of no use. We have a class conscious minority today yet it is helpless. That minority have to go on broadcasting the principles of socialism until the majority accepted them.

For the capitalist class mere ownership of wealth is not enough. They require a means to protect that ownership. These means are the police and the armed forces which are under the control of whichever political party having a majority of representatives in Parliament. Whoever had control of these forces are the masters of the situation. History has much to say on this point which disproves the idea that mere ownership in some miraculous manner confers power on the owners. In England, from the 11th to the 14th century, the woollen merchants were the most economically important class, with all their wealth they were helpless and were fleeced right and left by those who had political power – the feudal aristocracy. The history of every country has been the same in this respect. The capitalist class, under feudalism in spite of all their wealth were helpless until they wrested political power from the then dominant class in society. If we study the issues raised at a general election in modern times we see, plainly, the struggle between sections of the capitalist class to get political power in order that their particular interests may be served. “Economic power” is another of the dangerous illusions that the workers must get out of their minds before they can win their emancipation. In the 1926 General Strike we had an example of the masters using their political control to smash discontent among the workers. History as a matter of fact was full of such examples. So long as the workers leave this weapon in the hands of their masters they were helpless. Syndicalism, street fighting and other methods of force are doomed to failure and only lead to another bloodbath to those workers who would enough to attempt them. Class conscious political action to get control of the State machine is the only viable method open today. The SPGB. advocates that the workers must organise on the political and economic field on class lines before they can abolish capitalism. Political action is necessary to end the system, and the act of revolution is political. The state will not commence to “wither away” until it is in the hands of the revolutionary workers who will slowly but surely build up the new order of society thus abolishing the State functions. The state is a necessary evil, as Marx shows, which is transmitted to the workers through revolution. Will we merely put a cross on our ballot papers in order to get socialism, and the kind capitalists will then hand over? No. when the workers understand Socialism and take the action necessary to obtain it, the capitalists will not be asked to “hand over”. The workers will take over and the bosses’ opinions on the matter won’t matter in the slightest. Marx and Engels made it quite clear that political action meant that action which had for its object the control of the governmental powers which controlled the armed forces of the state. Engels pointed out that the workers would have to be in a majority, and thoroughly understanding the necessity for such action before they could establish socialism.  Engels described universal suffrage as being one of the sharpest weapons of the working class had. Once the workers have that knowledge, and not until they have it, then the business of emancipation will be a relatively simple matter.

The pessimism of our Leftist opponents that we will never get a class conscious majority is ably answered by Frederick Engels when he writes “When it comes to a matter of the complete overthrow, the masses must participate, must know what is at stake”. All through the later writings of Marx and Engels we find the position put quite plainly that a class conscious majority of workers, in order to establish Socialism, must get control of the State machine. Political power is the power to rule. The capitalist class have that power to-day and the working class give them that power at every election. When the workers understand and desire socialism they will organise in the socialist party in order to raise themselves to the position of ruling class, by capturing political power. With that power in their possession they will set about the task of building a new order of society which will conform to the interests of all."

The SPGB did not concern itself with petty reforms. We want the whole world, everything in it and on it, to be the common property of all mankind regardless of colour or sex; all people would take according to their needs and give according to their ability. Capitalism had fulfilled its historic role in solving the problem of production. Now that an abundance of wealth was capable of being produced the only meaningful struggle was for the overthrow of capitalism, which would result in the major problems being solved. The real task to organise and agitate amongst fellow workers for the overthrow of capitalism by the majority of the world’s population using democratic processes if available. “Peacefully if possible, violently if necessary “ was the SPGB’s viewpoint. Instead of fighting for such reforms one should remember Marx when he said “away with the conservative motto, a fair days work for a fair days wage and inscribe on your banner the revolutionary watchword ABOLITION OF THE WAGES SYSTEM”

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Marx and socialism

In an age where the internet provides us with unlimited access to the direct sources there appears to be no limits to the misunderstanding and distortion of Marx. In books and articles there is continuous reference to Marx, attacking him from all sides for claims that he never made. How can it be that the ideas of Marx can be so completely misunderstood and distorted? One reason is that Lenin and the Bolsheviks appropriated Marx's theory and tried to convince the world that their practice and theory follow his ideas that instead of the role of worker being abolished, it is extended to all men. Selectively quoted and out of context parts of Marx serve as the official ideology of the regime. Also the reformist social democrats, believed they were the enemies of capitalism but for them, socialism is not a society fundamentally different from capitalism, but rather, just a form of capitalism in which the working class has achieved a higher status. iI is, as Engels described it, "the present-day society without its defects."  They genuinely do believe in a better world – but they believe it can be achieved by a kinder, gentler capitalism and that profits can be used to  promote environmental, anti-poverty, and certain other noble causes. But they don’t dare to ask – or to admit – where these very profits come from: the unpaid labor of the entire working class. The compassionate capitalists believe that applying market principles to philanthropy, charity, and government will help lift the world out of poverty, cure all famine and disease. However, they fail to recognise that the exploitation at the core of capitalism is what engenders the very poverty, famine, and disease that their philanthropic and charitable efforts are attempting to relieve. They think that those who are “privileged” to enjoy great wealth should take up the responsibility of sharing a tiny slice of it with poor people – and don’t recognise that the wealth/poverty divide was created by capitalism itself. Marx and Engels explain in the Communist Manifesto: "The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society, minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat.The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best… [It requires] in reality that the proletariat should remain within the bounds of existing society, but should cast away all its hateful ideas concerning the bourgeoisie… It is summed up in the phrase: the bourgeois is a bourgeois—for the benefit of the working class."

There is no greater misrepresentation of Marx than that which is to be found in the thought of the state-capitalists, the reformists, and the avowedly capitalist opponents of socialism alike, all of whom assume that Marx wanted only the economic improvement of the working class, and that he wanted to abolish private property so that the worker would own what the capitalist now has. The truth is that for Marx the situation of a worker in a Russian "socialist" factory, a British state-owned factory, or an American factory such as General Motors, would appear essentially the same. Marx's concept of socialism is not a society of regimented, automatized individuals, regardless of whether there is equality of income or not, and regardless of whether they are well fed and well clad. It is not a society in which the individual is subordinated to the state, to the machine, to the bureaucracy. Even if the state as an "abstract capitalist" were the employer, even if "the entire social capital were united in the hands either of a single capitalist or a single capitalist corporation," this would not be socialism. Socialism, for Marx, is a society which serves the needs of man. Socialism for Marx, meant neither the mere abolition of poverty nor the  abstract idea of fairness which he rejected so scathingly in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. Least of all did Marx see socialism in which “representative” power and authority replaced individual power and authority over men.

It should be clear the popular idea of the nature of historical materialism is erroneous. Marx's "materialistic" or "economic" interpretation of history has nothing whatsoever to do with an alleged "materialistic" or "economic" striving as the most fundamental drive in man. Marx has  been criticised for presenting politics, culture, religion, etc. as simple effects of a one-way economic cause.  The popular view assumes that in Marx's opinion the strongest psychological motive in man is to gain money and to have more material comfort; if this is the main force within man, so continues this "interpretation" of historical materialism, the key to the understanding of history is the material desires of men; hence, the key to the explanation of history is man's belly, and his greed for material satisfaction. It is the understanding of history based on the fact that men are "the authors and actors of their history." Marx saw that political force cannot produce anything for which there has been no preparation in the social and political process. Hence that force, if at all necessary, can give, so to speak, only the last push to a development which has virtually already taken place, but it can never produce anything truly new. "Force," he said, "is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one."

Marx did not believe that there is no such thing as the nature of man; that man at birth is like a blank sheet of paper, on which the culture writes its text. Nor was Marx ever tempted to assume that "human nature" was identical with that particular expression of human nature prevalent in his own society. For Marx the aim of socialism was the emancipation of man, and the emancipation of man was the same as his self-realisation and development of the individual personality.

Capitalism has obviously changed in the hundred years since Marx and Engels wrote yet in the basic relations and structures which distinguish capitalism from feudalism and socialism, however, it has changed very little, and these are the main features of capitalism addressed in Marx's theories. The workers' relationship to their labour, products and capitalists are basically unchanged from Marx's day. Workers, for example, may earn more money now than they did in the last century, but so do the capitalists. Consequently, the wealth and income gaps between the two classes is as great or greater than ever.

Marx wrote no “Utopia” of the kind that earlier writers had produced – writings based only on the general idea of a society from which the more obvious evils of the society in which they lived had been removed. But from the general laws of social development Marx was able to outline the features of the new society and the way in which it would develop.

The capitalist class would love for class struggle to just be considered an old-fashioned notion from the past but the class struggle -- the conflict between the capitalists and the workers -- is at the very heart of the capitalist system. The majority of people would love to live in a world free of poverty, unemployment, racism and war. This kind of world is only possible under socialism. Most workers today would readily agree that this is the kind of world they would want for themselves and future generations. But they think it’s a pipedream yet it is the task of the working class to turn this vision into a reality. By learning the lessons of the class struggles that went before us and by applying our power workers develop revolutionary class consciousness. Our socialist perspective in no way means that we do not defend against the immediate attacks today. On the contrary, it is absolutely necessary, and socialists make good fighters for today’s struggle. But in order to fight most effectively, workers also have to understand that there can be no lasting concessions from the capitalist system. To achieve abundance for all, the working class will have to organise and build a genuine socialist revolution.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Deterministic - not us

The term “economic determinism” and the interpretation of Marx’s Materialist Conception of History as economic determinism is found in a mixed collection of opponents of Marx. Those who did hold that view were necessarily committed to the automatic “collapse of capitalism” concept. Some said rather mechanically  that all we had to do was to sit back with folded arms and watch it happen. The S.P.G.B. never subscribed to the belief which was popular among so many social democrats before the First World War that ‘history’ would bring capitalism to a point where it would be forced to collapse.

Marx of course did not hold such a view, as his summary statement of the Materialist Conception of History in his Introduction to his “Critique of Political Economy” makes quite clear. He did indeed hold that “The mode of production of the material means of existence conditions the whole process of social, political and intellectual life” and that “with the change in the economic foundations the whole vast superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed”, and that there are in history “progressive epochs in the economic system of society” (the Asiatic, the ancient, the feudal and the modern bourgeois), and that “bourgeois productive relationships are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production”, and “with this social system, therefore, the prehistory of human society comes to a close”. But vital to the whole conception for Marx was that it proceeds through periods of social revolution in which” men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out”.  In the “Communist Manifesto” it was put in the phrase that history “is the history of class struggles”.

In the Socialist Standard (August 1910) Fitzgerald in debate with a Tory is reported as follows:-
“his opponent still persisted in saying that Marx stated that the economic was the only factor, and that man was determined by his surroundings, and in view of that he would read Marx’s own words which were: “The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society – the real foundation upon which rests the legal and political superstructure. Marx also said ‘Man makes his own history, but he does not make it out of the whole cloth”.

There were many articles in the Socialist Standard on the Materialist Conception of History and none put the view attributed to the S.P.G.B. an economic determiinist .

“Karl Marx in Current Criticism” by Adolph Kohn Socialist Standard, March 1913 went over the whole of Marx’s contribution to Socialist thought, including the M. C. of  H. That part reads like a paraphrase of Marx’s summary in the “Critique”. It did not put the ” automatic process” “economic determinist” point of view but instead, as Marx did, on the vital element of class struggle. Among the statements made by Kohn are:
History since the passing of Primitive Communism had been a history of class struggles”. This class struggle is the cardinal principle of the socialist party”. So for Kohn a decisive factor was the class struggle. 
“Marx rescued Socialism from the hands of the Utopians and placed it upon a foundation of scientific fact. Not moral appeals but organised political action was the way to fight the capitalists. Society, said Marx, moved not because of changing morals, but under the pressure of growing economic forces making a change in social forms inevitable”.

How completely the S.P.G.B. rejected “economic determinism” is shown in the pamphlet “Why capitalism will not collapse” (1932), as for example in the passage:-

“The lesson to be learned is that there is no simple way out of capitalism by leaving the system to collapse on its own accord. Until a sufficient number of workers are prepared to organise politically for the conscious purpose of ending capitalism, that system will stagger on indefinitely from one crisis to another”.