The life and scientific discoveries of Claude Lorius, polar explorer and environmentalist
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Monday, May 25, 2015
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Everyone wants a piece of the South China Sea, a strategically important and resource-rich area in Asia. China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia claim some sort of ownership in a different shape or form.
The US Energy Information Agency reckons there could be around 11bn barrels of oil and 190tn cubic feet of natural gas there and that is not even the entire area. The Chinese National Offshore Oil Company puts the number at 125bn barrels of oil and 500tn cubic feet in undiscovered resources.
China said it was ''strongly dissatisfied'' after a U.S. spy plane flew over part of the South China Sea this week near where China is building artificial islands, and called on the United States to stop such action or risk causing an accident. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Chinese military drove away the aircraft, in accordance with relevant regulations. He labelled the U.S. action a security threat to China's islands and reefs.
Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, said the Poseidon had not gone within 12-mile (19-km) territorial limits that China claims around the artificial islands but said this could happen in the future. "We don't recognize those islands as anything other than international space."
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
JD Wetherspoon, one of the UK’s largest pub chains has been found guilty of racial discrimination after its staff refused to allow a group of Gypsies and Travellers into a branch in north London. Staff at The Coronet in Holloway Road had acted illegally when they denied entry to a group of people who had been attending a nearby conference organised by the Traveller Movement charity. Its policy had been “irrational” and that his thinking had been “suffused with the stereotypical assumption that Irish Travellers and English Gypsies cause disorder wherever they go”. The then manager of the pub had specifically hired security staff to stand outside the pub on the day it was scheduled to take place.
The company’s founder and chairman Tim Martin attending “almost every day” of the court hearing. “They fought this case tooth and nail,” he said, adding that in his view the company’s decision to defend the claim made it more than “just a local issue”.
A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “In modern Britain, no one should face being denied service in a shop or pub because of their race. Cases of this nature are unfortunately still too prevalent.”
Monday, May 18, 2015
Sunday, May 17, 2015
Friday, May 15, 2015
I’ll start with a few Eugene Debs quote
“It is infinitely better to vote for freedom and fail than to vote for slavery and succeed.”
“Better a thousand times that labor is divided fighting for freedom than united in the bonds of slavery.”
“Until corporate wealth is supplanted by common wealth in the ownership of the nation, it will continue to write our laws and to enforce them or now, as best pleases its owners”
In fact I want to use his words to present his case for and against reforms. Naturally, I cherry-picked and obviously I placed them out of context but I will still claim that it represents a unique view of how we should practice our politics.
WHO WE ARE
“The one thing necessary is that we shall have a sound Socialist Party, with a platform that will bear the test of critical analysis. By this I do not mean that we shall quibble and split hairs, but that so far as the fundamental principles of Socialism are concerned, they shall be stated with such clearness as to silence all reasonable question as to our party being free from the taint of compromise and in harmonious alliance with the Socialist movement of the world.”
“The Social Democracy is a Socialist party and is pledged to the principles of Socialism. It can not and will not fuse with any capitalist party, by whatever name it may be called. As special allusion to the Populist Party is made by our inquirers, let it be said that the Populist Party is a capitalist party and the Social Democracy will not fuse with it any more than it will with the Republican or Democratic Party. It is urged by some that we should encourage alliance with the Populist Party because it inclines in our direction. Their advice, if followed, would wreck our party. If Socialism is right, Populists should become Socialists and join the Social Democracy. If they are not ready to do this they are not Socialists, and hence opposed to Socialism, and fusion with their party would result in inevitable disaster. The only object of such fusion would be the securing of office — the loaves and fishes. We are not after office, we want Socialism. We care nothing about office except in so far as it represents the triumph of Socialism. Therefore, be it understood, once for all, that the Social Democracy will not fuse with any party that does not stand for pure Socialism, and there will be no departure from this policy”
“The difference between the Republican and Democratic parties involve no issue, no principle in which the working class have any interest, and whether the spoils be distributed by Hanna and Platt, or by Croker and Tammany Hall is all the same to them.
Between these parties socialists have no choice, no preference. They are one in their opposition to Socialism, that is to say, the emancipation of the working class from wage-slavery, and every workingman who has intelligence enough to understand the interest of his class and the nature of the struggle in which it is involved, will once and for all time sever his relations with them both; and recognizing the class-struggle which is being waged between the producing workers and non-producing capitalists, cast his lot with the class-conscious, revolutionary Socialist party, which is pledged to abolish the capitalist system, class-rule and wage-slavery—a party which does not compromise or fuse, but, preserving inviolate the principles which quickened it into life and now give it vitality and force, moves forward with dauntless determination to the goal of economic freedom.”
“The Socialist party, the party of the working class, the party of emancipation, is made up of men and women who know their rights and scorn to compromise with their oppressors; who want no votes that can be bought and no support under any false pretense whatsoever. The Socialist party stands squarely upon its proletarian principles and relies wholly upon the forces of industrial progress and the eduction of the working class. The Socialist party buys no votes and promises no offices. Not a farthing is spent for whiskey or cigars. Every penny in the campaign fund is the volutnary offerings of workers and their sympathizers and every penny is used for education. What other parties can say the same?”
“The workers themselves must take the initiative in uniting their forces for effective economic and political action; the leaders will never do it for them. They must no longer suffer themselves to be deceived by the specious arguments of their betrayers, who blatantly boast of their unionism that they may traffic in it and sell out the dupes who blindly follow them. I have very little use for labor leaders in general and none at all for the kind who feel their self-importance and are so impressed by their own wisdom that where they lead their dupes are expected to blindly follow without a question. Such “leaders” lead their victims to the shambles and deliver them over for a consideration and this is possible only among craft-divided wage-slaves who are kept apart for the very purpose that they may feel their economic helplessness and rely upon some “leader” to do something for them…The Socialist Party is the party of the workers, organized to express in political terms their determination to break their fetters and rise to the dignity of free men. In this party the workers must unite and develop their political power to conquer and abolish the capitalist political state and clear the way for industrial and social democracy. But the new order can never be established by mere votes alone. This must be the result of industrial development and intelligent economic and political organization, necessitating both the industrial union and the political party of the workers to achieve their emancipation”
“The Socialist party as the party of the working class stands squarely upon its principles in making its appeal to the workers of the nation. It is not begging for votes, nor asking votes, nor bargaining for votes. It is not in the vote market. It wants votes but only of those who want it-those who recognise is as their party, and come to it of their own free will.
If as the Socialist candidate for president I were seeking office and the spoils of office I would be a traitor to the Socialist party and a disgrace to the working class.
To be sure we want all the votes we can get and all that are coming to us but only as a means of developing the political power of the working class in the struggle for industrial freedom, and not that we may revel in the spoils of office.
The workers have never yet developed or made use of their political power. They have played the game of their masters for the benefit of the master class-and how many of them, disgusted with their own blind and stupid performance are renouncing politics and refusing to see any difference between the capitalist parties financed by the ruling class to perpetuate class rule and the Socialist party organized and financed by the workers themselves as a means of wresting the control of government and of industry from the capitalists and making the working class the ruling class of the nation and the world.”
“The mission of Social Democracy is to awaken the producer to a consciousness that he is a Socialist and to give him courage by changing his conditions… I don’t fear the man that says I don’t agree with you. The only thing in this world that I fear is ignorance.”
“The working class alone made the tools; the working class alone can use them, and the working class must, therefore, own them.
This is the revolutionary demand of the Socialist movement. The propaganda is one of education and is perfectly orderly and peaceable. The workers must be taught to unite and vote together as a class in support of the Socialist party, the party that represents them as a class, and when they do this the government will pass into their hands and capitalism will fall to rise no more; private ownership will give way to social ownership, and production for profit to production for use; the wage system will disappear, and with it the ignorance and poverty, misery and crime that wage-slavery breeds; the working class will stand forth triumphant and free, and a new era will dawn in human progress and in the civilization of mankind.”
“I am not here, my brothers, to ask you, as an economic organization, to go into politics. Not at all. If I could have you pass a resolution to go into politics I would not do it. If you were inclined to go into active politics as an organization I would prevent such action if I could. You repre sent the economic organization of the working class and this organization has its own clearly defined functions. Your economic organization can never become a political machine, but your economic organization must recognize and proclaim the necessity for a united political party. You ought to pass a resolution recognizing the class struggle, declaring your opposition to the capitalist system of private ownership of the means of production, and urging upon the working class the necessity for working class political action. That is as far as the economic organization need to go. If you were to use your economic organization for political purposes you would disrupt it, you would wreck it. But I would not have you renounce politics…Workingmen in their organized capacity must recognize the necessity for both economic and political action. I would not have you declare in favor of any particular political party. That would be another mistake which would have disastrous results. If I could have you pass a resolution to support the Socialist party I would not do it. You can’t make Socialists by passing resolutions. Men have to become Socialists by study and experience, and they are getting the experience every day.
There is one fact, and a very important one, that I would impress upon you, and that is the necessity for revolutionary working class political action.
No one will attempt to dispute the fact that our interests as workers are identical. If our interests are identical, then we ought to unite. We ought to unite within the same organization, and if there is a strike we should all strike, and if there is a boycott all of us ought to engage in it. If our interests are identical, it follows that we ought to belong to the same party as well as to the same economic organization. What is politics? It is simply the reflex of economics. What is a party? It is the expression politically of certain material class interests. You belong to that party that you believe will promote your material welfare. Is not that a fact? If you find yourself in a party that attacks your pocket do you not quit that party?
Now, if you are in a party that opposes your interests it is because you don’t have intelligence enough to understand your interests. That is where the capitalists have the better of you…No man can serve both capital and labor at the same time. You don’t admit the capitalists to your union. They organize their union to fight you. You organize your union to fight them. Their union consists wholly of capitalists; your union consists wholly of workingmen. It is along the same line that you have got to organize politically. You don’t unite with capitalists on the economic field; why should you politically?”
“The education of the people, not the few alone, but the entire mass in the principles of industrial democracy and along the lines of social development is the task of the people to be emphasized and that task – let it be impressed upon them – can be performed only by themselves.
The cultured few can never educate the uncultured many. All history attests the fact that all the few have ever done for the many is to keep them in ignorance and servitude and live out of their labor.
To stir the masses, to appeal to their higher, better selves, to set them thinking for themselves, and to hold ever before them the ideal of mutual kindness and good will, based upon mutual interests, is to render real service to the cause of humanity.”
“Everything that is of interest to the workers in their struggle to better their condition should appeal to the revolutionary movement. Indeed, the only way to make the movement truly revolutionary is to make the daily struggle of the workers its own struggle and so thoroughly incarnate and breathe that struggle as to make it not only a necessary and inseparable part of the workers but the very workers themselves in organized and conscious action to throw off the burdens that oppress them and walk the earth free men.”
“There is but one issue that appeals to this conquering army-the unconditional surrender of the capitalistic class. To be sure this cannot be achieved in a day and in the meantime the party enforces to the extent of its power its immediate demands and presses steadily onward toward the goal. It has its constructive program by means of which it develops its power and its capacity, step by step, seizing upon every bit of vantage to advance and strengthen its position, but never for a moment mistaking reform for revolution and never losing sight of the ultimate goal. Socialist reform must not be confounded with so-cared capitalist reform. The latter is shrewdly designed to buttress capitalism; the former to overthrow it. Socialist reform vitalizes and promotes the socialist revolution….There is no hope under the present decaying system. The worker who votes the Republican or Democratic ticket does worse than throw away his vote. He is a deserter of his class and his own worst enemy, though he may be in blissful ignorance of the fact that he is false to himself and his fellow workers, and that sooner or later he must reap what he has sown…The Socialist party presents …points out to them clearly why their situation is hopeless under capitalism, how they are robbed and exploited”
“While I believe that most of these “reformers” are honest and well-meaning, I know that some of them, by no means inconspicuous, are charlatans and frauds. They are the representatives of middle class interests, and the shrewd old politicians of the capitalist parties are not slow to perceive and take advantage of their influence. They are “Socialists” for no other purpose than to emasculate Socialism. Beaten in the capitalist game by better shufflers, dealers, and players, they have turned “reformers” and are playing that for what there is in it. They were failures as preaches and lawyers and politicians and capitalists. In their new role as “reformers” they dare not offend the capitalist exploiters, for their revenue depends upon their treason to the exploited slaves over whom they mourn dolefully and shed crocodile tears.
I respect the honest effort of any man or set of men, however misguided, to better social conditions, but I have no patience with the frauds and quacks who wear the masks of meekness and in the name of “brotherhood” betray their trusting victims to the class that robs them without pity and riots in the proceeds without shame.”
“It is a question of human freedom versus human slavery.
This question is as old as the race, but for the first time in human history the issue is stripped of all subterfuge and the exploited class have the political power in their own hands to accomplish by peaceful means their own emancipation.
No longer can the political harlots of capitalism betray the workers with issues manufactured for that purpose. The beating of tariff tom-toms, the cry for control of corporations, the punishment of “malefactors of great wealth,” the wolf cry of civic righteousness under capitalism, will not avail the politicians in this campaign.
Neither will the purely political issues of direct legislation, the recall, direct election of senators, or the economic reforms promised, of old-age pensions, minimum wage, industrial insurance and welfare of labor, about which the politicians of capitalism are now so much concerned, bring aid or comfort to them, for the people know that all of these are a part of the program of Socialism and that they are only seized upon by designing men who are not Socialists in an effort to deceive the people and prolong the reign of capitalism….The Socialist party offers the only remedy, which is Socialism. It does not promise Socialism in a day, a month, or a year, but it has a definite program with Socialism as its ultimate end.”
“The largest possible expression of the social spirit should be fostered and encouraged in the Socialist movement. In spite of the hindrances which beset us in our present environments and relations, we may yet cultivate this spirit assiduously to our increasing mutual good and to the good of our great movement.
In our propaganda, in the discussion of our tactical and other differences, and in all our other activities, the larger faith that true comradeship inspires should prevail between us. We need to be more patient, more kindly, more tolerant, more sympathetic, helpful, and encouraging to one another, and less suspicious, less envious, and less contentious, if we are to educate and impress the people by our example and by the results of our teachings upon ourselves, win them to our movement, and realize our dream of universal freedom and social righteousness.”
Why can we not differ without denouncing each other?
Why can we not give those with whom we differ credit for being as honest as ourselves?
Why can we not reason with those with whom we disagree in a decent spirit instead of treating them with ridicule and contempt?
Personally I have equal respect for all who stand four square for the working class and for the overthrow of the capitalist system, whether they be socialists, communists, anarchists, or IWWs. I don’t find it necessary to hate and denounce them because their method differs from mine. They may be right. I don’t think they are, but I have been mistaken a good many times in the past and am just as apt to be so now as anyone else .We certainly find a large measure of common ground for all these groups if we have the right spirit and seek to convince and win over by argument instead of offending and driving away by abuse…I hope we may have a more decent, tolerant, and truly revolutionary spirit in our attitude toward those with whom we differ in the movement, and that we may devote our whole time and energy in organizing the workers into one industrial union and one political party for the gigantic struggle which confronts them and which they must win, or remain in slavery. The most effective way to answer those who sneer at political action is with silence when argument fails. Let them alone and stick to your work of education and organization!”
If a bona fide labor party cannot be organized at Chicago then I hope that no party at all will issue from that conference. Better far no party than a nondescript imitation of one, composed of so-called progressive and reform elements, more or less muddled, discordant, and wholly lacking in clear aim, definite object, and concerted purpose. A “third party” of such a nature would at best align the dwindling “little interests” against the “big interests,” seek to patch up and prolong the present corrupt and collapsing capitalist system, and failing utterly to effect any material change or achieve any substantial benefit would finally fizzle out and add one more to the list of “third party” fiascoes…
A political party today must stand for labor and the freedom of labor, or it must stand for capital and the exploitation of labor. It cannot possibly stand for both any more than it could for both freedom and slavery…
I want to see the workers of this nation rise in the might of their intelligence and demand a party of their own, free, eternally free from the paralyzing putridities of the parties of their silk-hatted, wealth-inflated, job-owning and labor-exploiting masters—a party with a backbone and the courage to stand up without apology and proclaim itself a Labor Party, clean, confident of its own inherent powers, bearing proudly the union label in token of its fundamental conquering principle of industrial and political solidarity, and challenging the whole world of capitalism to contest the right of this nation to own its own industries, to control its own economic and social life, and the right of the toiling and producing masses to own their own jobs, to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, and to be the masters of their own lives.
I am suspicious of those who admit that we must have a labor party but object to having it called by its right name. It should be a matter of pride and certainly not of shame to a labor party to have its true title nailed to its masthead. If not, why not? Shall we fear to keep out many who would otherwise join? That is the very reason the party should be known for what it actually is as well as what it actually stands for. We must bear no false label, carry no false banner, nor seek support under any false pretense whatsoever.
We must stand avowedly, face front, for labor—for the people who produce, who render needed service, and who are useful and necessary to the world.
Let me make it clear that I am not wanting another socialist party organized. We already have one and that is enough. Neither do I want another capitalist party organized, having already two, more than enough. A middle-class party, by whatever name, would still be a capitalist party, for while it might champion “little interests” against “big interests,” with a sop to labor, it would still stand for the capitalist system and the perpetuation of wage-slavery.
If a genuine labor party is organized at Chicago I shall not expect the platform to go the limit of radical demands but shall be satisfied with a reasonable statement of labor’s rights and interests as well as its duties and responsibilities, doubting not that with the progress of the party its platform will in due time embrace every essential feature of the working class program for deliverance from industrial servitude.
The Socialist party can, should, and I have no doubt will join such a party wholeheartedly, becoming an integral part of its structure, reserving, however, its autonomy unimpaired and using all its powers and functions in building up, equipping, promoting, and directing the general party.”
I’ll end with another final Debs quote
“Now I believe that it is impossible to compromise a principle, and the Socialist Party is committed to a certain principle. To compromise principle is to court death and disaster. It is better to be true to a principle and to stand alone and be able to look yourself in the face without a blush, far better to be in a hopeless minority than to be in a great popular and powerful majority of the unthinking.”
Thursday, May 14, 2015
The Socialist Party has often come under criticism to holding to what is frequently called a simplistic two-class model for the structure of capitalism. The working class are paid to produce goods and services which are then sold for a profit. The profit is gained by the capitalist class because they can make more money selling what we have produced than we cost to buy on the labour market. In this sense, the working class are exploited by the capitalist class. The capitalists live off the profits they obtain from exploiting the working class whilst reinvesting some of their profits for the further accumulation of wealth. This is what we mean when we say there are two classes in society. It is a claim based upon simple facts about the society we live in today. This class division is the essential feature of capitalism. It may be popular to talk (usually vaguely) about various other 'classes' existing such as the 'middle class', but it is the two classes defined here that are the key to understanding capitalism.
So it is always helpful to the case for socialism when others express similar opinions to ourselves and confirm much of our position. Jack A. Smith, editor of the Activist Newsletter and a former editor of the American radical newsweekly, the Guardian has written an interesting article on theDissident Voice website which is worth quoting extracts from.
“A complex class system exists in the United States, but the mass media and political rhetoric generally reduces it to three components — one middle class, and two economic generalizations — rich and the poor…
… Virtually the only class ever mentioned these days is the middle class, and now that seems on the way out, at least until the next election if not longer. The New York Times reported May 12 that political candidates for election in 2016 are no longer mentioning the middle class because it may remind people that this once sacrosanct vehicle for attaining the “American Dream” seems to be falling apart and taking the dream down with it… “Hillary Rodham Clinton calls them ‘everyday Americans.’ Scott Walker prefers ‘hard-working taxpayers.’ Rand Paul says he speaks for ‘people who work for the people who own businesses.’ Bernie Sanders talks about ‘ordinary Americans.’ The once ubiquitous term ‘middle class’ has gone conspicuously missing from the 2016 campaign trail” - New York Times
… Whatever happened to the term upper class? It’s hardly used at all these days Gone as well is general usage of lower class, lower middle class, and upper middle class — all popular designations in the past but rare now. They may not have been scientific, but people knew what they meant….
… Remember when there was a “working class” in our country? The frequent reference to this class a few decades ago has nearly vanished today, except in some academic and economic circles, a few militant unions and in the political left. The working class was split up. Its members became sold on the idea that benefits and security awaited their families in the middle class. The poor and very low-wage workers were pushed into their own weaker category, belonging neither to the working class nor middle class. One reason for this entire transformation was to suppress the memory and continuing existence of a more militant era in U.S. history when the working class and the union movement was strong and tough. Nearly all unions now avoid mention of the working class, substituting “working families” or “employees,” but mostly the unions now identify their members as part of that all-embracing and utterly misleading ticket to paradise known as membership in the middle class. The U.S. government and the corporate elite worked together to transform a bothersome working class into a relatively placid middle class desiring to retain its new status.…
…Virtually obliterated is the term “ruling class” to describe that relatively small group of billionaire and upper millionaire capitalist plutocrats, corporate leaders, bank presidents, financiers and their highly paid henchmen who possess the power to decisively influence if not totally control the political system…
… The popularization of the idea that “We are the 99%” (in opposition to the 1% who rule America) was the best thing Occupy Wall Street did in its relatively brief existence. It was an eye-opener for so many people. It gave a concrete form to an abstract idea. So that’s who’s doing this to us! It would be shortsighted in the extreme for the progressive and left movements not to follow up in a big way on the deepened consciousness of the American people about unequal distribution of wealth, Washington’s failure to protect democracy, the degeneration of the electoral process, the increasing exploitation of workers, the decline of the vaunted middle class and the extraordinary power of the 1% ruling class that controls the U.S. on behalf of a neoliberal form of warrior capitalism.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Monday, May 11, 2015
Wednesday, May 06, 2015
Ken Griffin, the founder of the Chicago-based Citadel hedge fund that recently hired former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke as an adviser, came top of the list for 2014, taking home $1.3bn.
James Simons, the septuagenarian mathematician and code breaker whose Renaissance Technologies has been one of the best preforming hedge funds over three decades, came in at number two on the list, earning $1.2bn.
Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund by assets, was placed third with earnings of $1.1bn.
Bill Ackman, who has been waging an aggressive battle against the US company Herbalife, was ranked fourth with a $950m pay packet.
Hedge funds typically adopt a fee structure known as “two and 20”, or 2 per cent of all assets under management and 20 per cent of profits. This allows managers to earn large sums regardless of their fund’s performance based on the amounts of assets they manage, as well as taking a fifth of any investment gains they make. The average hedge fund returned about 3 per cent in 2014, 9 per cent in 2013, and 6 per cent in 2012. A small but influential group of public pension funds who have spoken out against the industry’s high costs and lacklustre investment performance in recent years.
In January, Europe’s second-largest public pension fund axed its entire €4bn hedge fund portfolio after it was left disappointed by its cost, complexity and low returns. The fund, Holland’s €156bn Dutch healthcare workers’ pension fund PFZW, took the rare step of directly attacking the high pay of hedge fund managers, criticising “the high remuneration in the hedge fund sector and the often limited concern for society and the environment”. Last year Calpers, the largest US state pension fund, said it was pulling out of its hedge fund investments, arguing that its $4bn portfolio was no longer appropriate for its investment aims.
Monday, May 04, 2015
Steady State Socialism
By Alan Johnstone
04 April, 2015
In 1923 the communist activist Sylvia Pankhurst opened an article with the declaration that ‘Socialism means plenty for all. We do not preach a gospel of want and scarcity, but of abundance…We do not call for limitation of births, for penurious thrift, and self-denial. We call for a great production that will supply all, and more than all the people can consume.’ (1) We have the technology and the know-how to end deprivation and offer everyone on this planet the decent and comfortable standard of life they deserve that Sylvia advocated and it need not take decades to come about. Yes, socialism can bring security to billions within our lifetimes. It is achievable.
Along with folk like Herman Daly, socialists are seeking ultimately to establish a steady-state economy (or ‘zero-growth’) society, a situation where human needs sits in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society would already have decided, according to its own criteria and through its own decision-making processes, on the most appropriate way to allocate resources to meet the needs of its members. This having been done, it would only need to go on repeating this continuously from production period to production period. Production would not be ever-increasing but would be stabilized at the level required to satisfy needs. All that would be produced would be products for consumption and the products needed to replace and repair the raw materials and instruments of production used up in producing these consumer goods. The point about such a situation is that there will no longer be any imperative need to develop productivity, i.e. to cut costs in the sense of using less resources; nor will there be the blind pressure to do so that is exerted under capitalism through the market.
It will also create an ecologically benign relationship with nature. In socialism we would not be bound to use the most labour efficient methods of production. We would be free to select our methods in accordance with a wide range of socially desirable criteria, in particular the vital need to protect the environment. What it means is that we should construct permanent, durable means of production which you don’t constantly innovate. We would use these to produce durable equipment and machinery and durable consumer goods designed to last for a long time, designed for minimum maintenance and made from materials which if necessary can be re-cycled. In this way we would get a minimum loss of materials; once they’ve been extracted and processed they can be used over and over again. It also means that once you’ve achieved satisfactory levels of consumer goods, you don’t insist on producing more and more. Total social production could even be reduced. This will be the opposite of to-day's capitalist system’s cheap, shoddy, “throw-away” goods and built-in obsolescence, which results in a massive loss and destruction of resources.
In a stable society such as socialism, needs would change relatively slowly. Hence it is reasonable to surmise that an efficient system of stock control, recording what individuals actually chose to take under conditions of free access from local distribution centres over a given period, would enable the local distribution committee to estimate what the need for food, drink, clothes and household goods would be over a similar future period. Some needs would be able to be met locally: local transport, restaurants, builders, repairs and some food are examples as well as services such as street-lighting, libraries and refuse collection. The local distribution committee would then communicate needs that could not be met locally to the bodies charged with coordinating supplies to local communities.
Of course there will be a short phase where there an increase in production will be necessary to relieve the worst problems of food shortages, health-care and housing which affect billions of people throughout the world. There will also be action to construct the means of production and infrastructures such as transport systems for the commencement of the supply of permanent housing and durable consumption goods. These would be designed in line with conservation principles, which means they would be made to last for a long time, using materials that where possible could be re-cycled and would require minimum maintenance. When these objectives have been accomplished there would begin an eventual fall in production, and society could move into a stable mode. This would achieve a rhythm of daily production in line with daily needs with no significant growth. On this basis, the world community could reconcile two great needs, the need to live well whilst sharing and caring for the planet, sparing it from excesses.
Whether it is called ‘the market economy, ‘neo-liberalism’, ‘free enterprise’ (or even ‘mixed’ or ‘state-command’ economy”), the social system under which we live is capitalism. Capitalism is primarily an economic system of competitive capital accumulation out of the surplus value produced by wage labour. As a system it must continually accumulate or go into crisis. Consequently, human needs and the needs of our natural environment take second place to this imperative. The result is waste, pollution, environmental degradation and unmet needs on a global scale. The ecologist’s dream of a sustainable ‘zero growth’ within capitalism will always remain just that, a dream. If human society is to be able to organise its production in an ecologically acceptable way, then it must abolish the capitalist economic mechanism of capital accumulation and gear production instead to the direct satisfaction of needs.
The problem for a great number of people in the environmental movement is that they want to retain the market system in which goods are distributed through sales at a profit and people’s access to goods depends upon their incomes. The market, however, can only function with a constant pressure to renew its capacity for sales; and if it fails to do this production breaks down, people are out of employment and suffer a reduced income. It is a fundamental flaw and an insoluble contradiction in the green capitalist argument that they want to retain the market system, which can only be sustained by continuous sales and continuous incomes, and at the same time they want a conservation society with reduced productive activity. These aims are totally incompatible with each other. Also what many green thinkers advocate in their version of a “steady-state” market economy, is that the surplus would be used not to reinvest in expanding production, nor in maintaining a privileged class in luxury but in improving public services while maintaining a sustainable balance with the natural environment. It’s the old reformist dream of a tamed capitalism, minus the controlled expansion of the means of production an earlier generation of reformists used to envisage.
David Pepper in his ‘Eco-Socialism’(2) suggests we start from a concern for the suffering of humans and look for a solution to this. This makes us ‘anthropocentric’ as opposed to the ‘ecocentrism’ – Nature first – of many ecologists. The plunder and destruction of Nature is rejected as not being in the interests of the human species, not because the interests of Nature come first. Environmentalists can learn from Marx’s materialist conception of history which makes the way humans are organised to meet their material needs the basis of any society. Humans meet their material needs by transforming parts of the rest of nature into things that are useful to them; this in fact is what production is. So the basis of any society is its mode of production which, again, is the same thing as its relationship to the rest of nature. Humans survive by interfering in the rest of nature to change it for their own benefit. Those active in the ecology movement tend to see this interference as inherently destructive of nature. It might do this, but there is no reason why it has to. That humans have to interfere in nature is a fact of human existence. How humans interfere in nature, on the other hand, depends on the kind of society they live in. It is absurd to regard human intervention in nature as some outside disturbing force, since humans are precisely that part of nature which has evolved that consciously intervenes in the rest of nature; it is our nature to do so. True, that at the present time, the form human intervention in the rest of Nature takes is upsetting natural balances and cycles, but the point is that humans, unlike other life-forms, are capable of changing their behaviour. In this sense the human species is the brain and voice of Nature i.e. Nature become self-conscious. But to fulfil this role humans must change the social system which mediates their intervention in nature. A change from capitalism to a community where each contributes to the whole to the best of his or her ability and takes from the common fund of produce what he or she needs.
Present-day society, capitalism, which exists all over the globe is a class-divided society where the means of production are owned and controlled by a tiny minority of the population only. Capitalism differs from previous class societies in that under it production is not for direct use, not even of the ruling class, but for sale on a market. To repeat, competitive pressures to minimise costs and maximise sales, profit-seeking and blind economic growth, with all their destructive effects on the rest of nature, are built-in to capitalism. These make capitalism inherently environmentally unfriendly. It is a highly misleading notion that society can live with a market economy that is ‘green’, ‘ecological’, or ‘moral’, under conditions of wage labour, exchange, competition and the like.
Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Human behaviour reflects society. In a society such as capitalism, people’s needs are not met and reasonable people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organised in such a dog-eat-dog manner. If people didn’t work society would obviously fall apart. To establish socialism the vast majority must consciously decide that they want socialism and that they are prepared to work in socialist society. If people want too much? In a socialist society ‘too much’ can only mean ‘more than is sustainably produced.’ For socialism to be established the productive potential of society must have been developed to the point where, generally speaking, we can produce enough for all. This is not now a problem as we have long since reached this point. However, this does require that we appreciate what is meant by ‘enough’ and that we do not project on to socialism the insatiable consumerism of capitalism.
If people decide that they (individually and as a society) need to over-consume then socialism cannot possibly work. Under capitalism, there is a very large industry devoted to creating needs. Capitalism requires consumption, whether it improves our lives or not, and drives us to consume up to, and past, our ability to pay for that consumption. In a system of capitalist competition, there is a built-in tendency to stimulate demand to a maximum extent. Firms, for example, need to persuade customers to buy their products or they go out of business. They would not otherwise spend the vast amounts they do spend on advertising. There is also in capitalist society a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. The prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class so then we can understand why, when the wealth of that class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status should be so deep-rooted. It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand. It does not matter how modest one’s real needs may be or how easily they may be met; capitalism’s “consumer culture” leads one to want more than one may materially need since what the individual desires is to enhance his or her status within this hierarchal culture of consumerism and this is dependent upon acquiring more than others have got. But since others desire the same thing, the economic inequality inherent in a system of competitive capitalism must inevitably generate a pervasive sense of relative deprivation. What this amounts to is a kind of institutionalised envy and that will be unsustainable as more peoples are drawn into alienated capitalism.
In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one’s command, would be a meaningless concept. The notion of status based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? In socialism the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society, and the stronger the movement for socialism grows the more will it subvert the prevailing capitalist ethos, in general, and its anachronistic notion of status, in particular.
All wealth would be produced on a strictly voluntary basis. Work in socialist society could only be voluntary since there would be no group or organ in a position to force people to work against their will. Free access to goods and services denies to any group or individuals the political leverage with which to dominate others (a feature intrinsic to all private-property or class based systems through control and rationing of the means of life.) This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. Goods and services would be provided directly for self-determined needs and not for sale on a market; they would be made freely available for individuals to take without requiring these individuals to offer something in direct exchange. The sense of mutual obligations and the realisation of universal interdependency arising from this would profoundly colour people’s perceptions and influence their behaviour in such a society. We may thus characterise such a society as being built around a moral economy and a system of generalised reciprocity.
Capitalism is not just an exchange economy but an exchange economy where the aim of production is to make a profit. Profit is the monetary expression of the difference between the exchange value of a product and the exchange value of the materials, energy and labour-power used to produce it, or what Marx called ‘surplus value.’ Defenders of capitalism never seem to ask the practical question about what the critical factor determining a production initiative in a market system.
The answer is obvious from everyday experience. The factor that critically decides the production of commodities is the judgement that enterprises make about whether they can be sold in the market. Obviously, consumers buy in the market that they perceive as being for their needs. But whether or not the transaction takes place is not decided by needs but by ability to pay. So the realisation of profit in the market determines both the production of goods and also the distribution of goods by various enterprises. In the market system the motive of production, the organisation of production, and the distribution of goods are inseparable parts of the same economic process: the realisation of profit and the accumulation of capital. The economic pressure on capital is that of accumulation, the alternative is bankruptcy. The production and distribution of goods is entirely subordinate to the pressure on capital to accumulate. The economic signals of the market are not signals to produce useful things. They signal the prospects of profit and capital accumulation. If there is a profit to be made then production will take place; if there is no prospect of profit, then production will not take place. Profit not need is the deciding factor. Under capitalism what appear to be production decisions are in fact decisions to go for profit in the market. The function of cost/pricing is to enable a business enterprise to calculate its costs, to fix its profit expectations within a structure of prices, to regulate income against expenditure and, ultimately, to regulate the exploitation of its workers. Unfortunately, prices can only reflect the wants of those who can afford to actually buy what economists call ‘effective demand’ – and not real demand for something from those without the wherewithal – the purchasing power – to buy the product (I may want a sirloin steak but I can only afford a hamburger.)
Socialist determination of needs begins with consumer needs and then flows throughout distribution and on to each required part of the structure of production. Socialism will make economically-unencumbered production decisions as a direct response to needs. With production for use, the starting point will be needs. By the replacement of exchange economy by common ownership basically what would happen is that wealth would cease to take the form of exchange value, so that all the expressions of this social relationship peculiar to an exchange economy, such as money and prices, would automatically disappear. In other words, goods would cease to have an economic value and would become simply physical objects which human beings could use to satisfy some want or other. (One reason why socialism holds a decisive productive advantage over capitalism is by eliminating the need to tie up vast quantities of resources and labour implicated in a system of monetary/pricing accounting.)
Humans are capable of integrating themselves into a stable ecosystem. and there is nothing whatsoever that prevents this being possible today on the basis of industrial technology and methods of production, all the more so, that renewable energies exist (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and whatever) but, for the capitalists, these are a “cost” which penalises them in face of international competition. No agreement to limit the activities of the multinationals in their relentless quest for profits is possible. Measures in favour of the environment come up against the interests of enterprises and their shareholders because by increasing costs they decrease profits. No State is going to implement legislation which would penalise the competitiveness of its national enterprises in the face of foreign competition. States only take into account environmental questions if they can find an agreement at international level which will disadvantage none of them. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Competition for the appropriation of world profits is one of the bases of the present system. So it is not “Humans” but the capitalist economic system itself which is responsible for ecological problems and the capitalist class and their representatives, they themselves are subject to the laws of profit and competition.
Yes, socialism is a real alternative and the only viable means to achieve the steady state economy sought by so many.