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Socialist Standard September 2008 1

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september 2008
socialist standard
website: www.worldsocialism.org

18

12
16
contents
FEATURES REGULARS

9 All at Sea 3 Editorial


The cold war re-heats
The indications are that the economy is heading for a recession, which no
government can prevent.
4 Pathfinders
Healing and wedges
12 The Irish No
A socialist in Ireland looks at the vote there to reject the EU’s proposed Treaty 5 Pieces Together
of Lisbon.
6 Material World
14 The Scottish Question Georgia
The Labour Party has always claimed to represent the interest of the worse off
majority but now finds itself deeply unpopular to the point of facing a crisis. 8 Contact Details

16 Will Belgium Survive? 15 Cooking the Books 1


No permanent government has emerged from the elections held in June last The coming purge
year. Does this matter to the working class there?
19 Cooking the Books 2
It’s the system, stupid
18 The Homer of the Cesspit
A hundred years ago this year Emile Zola’s remains were transferred to the
20 Reviews
Pantheon in Paris. The Impossibilists. A Brief Profile
of the Socialist Party of Canada;
Who runs Britain? How the
Super-Rich are changing our
lives.

22 50 Years Ago
The conflict in the Middle-East
23 Greasy Pole
Westminster Punch and Judy
Subscription Orders The Socialist Party of
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Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN. The next meeting of the Executive Committee 24 Voice from the Back
Rates will be on Saturday 6 September at the Learning About Capitalism; The
One year subscription (normal rate) £15 address below. Correspondence should be Mad House Of Capitalism; How
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Capitalism Operates, and more.
Europe rate £20 (Air mail) letters and notices should be sent to the
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Cheques payable to ‘The Socialist Party of tel: 020 7622 3811
Great Britain’. e-mail: spgb@worldsocialism.org

2 Socialist Standard September 2008

September 08 bdh.indd 2 22/8/08 11:40:56


Introducing Editorial
The Socialist Party The Cold War re-heats
The Socialist Party is like no other According to Clausewitz, the oft- As the economic and political basis for
political party in Britain. It is made up quoted 19th century general and military the Warsaw Pact crumbled, the regional
of people who have joined together strategist, war is “the continuation of military pact NATO (the North Atlantic
because we want to get rid of the profit policy by other means.” The recent brief – Treaty Organisation) has been expanding
system and establish real socialism. Our if brutal – conflict in the Caucasus is yet far beyond its original “north Atlantic”
aim is to persuade others to become another example of the everyday nature scope, with the states of the former
socialist and act for themselves, of capitalism continuing by other means. Soviet Union strategically-attractive
organising democratically and without The conflict in South Ossetia and targets of its recent recruitment drive, as
leaders, to bring about the kind of Abkhazia, which appears to have it expands its sphere of influence.
society that we are advocating in this claimed thousands of lives has been a Military conflict is an unavoidable
journal. We are solely concerned with rare eruption, exposing the tectonic-like consequence of the everyday conflict
building a movement of socialists for political and economic pressures shifting of property society. In capitalism all
socialism. We are not a reformist party below the surface. productive resources – most explicitly
with a programme of policies to patch These recent events have been a wake- oil production and distribution – have
up capitalism. up call to those still deluded into thinking to be owned and controlled by someone.
We use every possible opportunity that the ending of the cold war (which Modern warfare – with all the waste,
to make new socialists. We publish was never an ideological battleground devastation and atrocities it brings in
pamphlets and books, as well as CDs, anyway) would mean an end to stand-offs its wake – is a problem of capitalism.
DVDs and various other informative between superpowers, with the ultimate In contrast, in a moneyless, wageless,
material. We also give talks and take part potential for World War 3. classless and stateless socialist society
in debates; attend rallies, meetings and The Cold War has just been re-heated no-one will own any productive resource
demos; run educational conferences; then: but this time round the battle-lines to the exclusion of anyone else. There
host internet discussion forums, make are clearly not drawn on grounds of some will be no laws, rules or coercive
films presenting our ideas, and contest supposed ideological differences. There forces to administer or police such
elections when practical. Socialist are no great ideological or moral issues monopolisation.
literature is available in Arabic, Bengali, at stake here. The protagonists (US and The World Socialist Movement is
Dutch, Esperanto, French, German, Russia) and their allies are simply rival unique as a political movement in clearly
Italian, Polish, Spanish, Swedish and capitalist economies, eager to secure and consistently expressing its opposition
Turkish as well as English. strategic advantage, access to resources to war throughout the last hundred
The more of you who join the Socialist and regional influence. years. This is not selective: we oppose all
Party the more we will be able to get In particular, in attempting to diversify wars, and have done so from World War
our ideas across, the more experiences its oil sourcing away from troublesome 1 to Gulf War 2. Our opposition has a
we will be able to draw on and greater regions such as the Middle East, the US simple basis: war is fought over issues
will be the new ideas for building the is relying on a new pipeline via Georgia of interest to employers, landlords and
movement which you will be able to which taps into relatively secure sources bosses – the capitalist class, in short –
bring us. in Central Asia while avoiding Russian while it is workers, in uniform or civilian
The Socialist Party is an organisation territory. clothing, who are the cannon-fodder.
of equals. There is no leader and there There are other considerations The overwhelming majority, the global
are no followers. So, if you are going however. The failure of the centralised working class – whether from Georgia
to join we want you to be sure that you command economy version of capitalism (Caucasus) or Georgia (USA), have no
agree fully with what we stand for and as practised by the Soviet Union till its interests at stake worth shedding a drop
that we are satisfied that you understand demise almost 20 years ago did not end of blood over.
the case for socialism. the cold war, it merely changed the front.

Socialist Standard September 2008 3

September 08 bdh.indd 3 22/8/08 11:40:56


Machine, Heal Thyself crowd of people, an open doorway or
a doorway with a large obstruction in
front of it? Perhaps surprisingly, it is
Isn’t it annoying when you approach a red traffic light the doorway with the obstruction. It
and have to sit there waiting for it to turn green, despite the turns out by experiment that with an
fact that there are obviously no other cars or pedestrians open doorway everyone rushes at it in a
coming from any direction? What if the traffic light itself mad stampede, whereas an obstruction
was equipped with a bit of intelligence and could decide to regulates the flow, leading to a more
turn green if it was safe, all the while talking to its friends orderly and efficient passage for everyone.
across town, collectively regulating traffic flow according In a similar way, there is a perceived
to prevailing conditions? Apart from the shortening of inverse ratio between motorway traffic
journey times and the saving in carbon emissions, it density and speed of throughput, but
would be an example of something we are likely to see this can be wrong. As density increases,
more and more in the future, the self-configuring network. drivers change lanes less often, and
An engineered system implies by definition an engineer throughput thereby actually increases
who entirely understands and controls that system, at rather than decreases. The point of this
least in its initial state. But relying on permanent factory is that intuition can take you the wrong
settings in a dynamic system is almost never efficient, way when devising organised systems.
and today’s production systems are so complex and In one car production system (New
involve so many parameters that engineers often Scientist, Aug 9) efforts to assign
How have no idea what will happen if one detail is assembly robots in the most efficient
altered, or how best to solve a problem that way failed, until the robots themselves
to arises. One approach to this problem were given the task of organising
drive in a of complexity is to get the system
itself to devise its own solution.
their own work via a bidding system.
The result was an unpredictable
competitive This may be more effective and counter-intuitive ad-hoc schedule devised by the

(w}edge for the simple reason that


machines don’t rely on
robots which was more efficient and saved $1m per year.
There is an important principle here that socialists can
human intuition. use. One of the more ingenious arguments against socialist
In 2005 the Socialist Party produced a Which would theory is that, without the mediating agency of money,
video entitled Capitalism and Other Kid’s make for a a highly complex socialist production system would be
Stuff, in which the contention was made quicker hopelessly incomprehensible, involving so many parameters
that if as an experiment you take a group of exit for a that no central plan or design could realistically manage
kindergarten kids and deprive all the children of it. Leaving aside the audacious hypocrisy of critics who
their toys, giving everything to just one child, some are perfectly at home with the savage chaos of their own
very hostile and competitive behaviour will be the result. economic system, as well as their tendency to overstate the
Though this was more argument by analogy than rigorous complications of a steady-state economy with no booms,
scientific hypothesis, a recent study appears to have confirmed busts or advertiser-driven consumer faddism, such
this proposition by performing exactly this experiment, with complexity as would exist does not really present us
the predicted consequence (Who ever said that girls aren’t with a problem. Just like an intelligent traffic flow
competitive? New Scientist, June 28). A group of pre-school system, we could devise a ‘smart’ resource
caused
boys and girls were observed, first with enough toys to go round, system, using throughput, usage and
it in the
then with all the toys taken away so that only one child energy information to optimise itself,
first place.
was left with any possessions. The objective of reconfiguring whenever necessary.
It may be
the experiment was to find out if girls would be Thus, our answer to our critics’
the fault of the
as competitive as boys. The study showed that objection that we could never
journalistic news item
there was a marked increase in competitive consciously regulate
rather than the study, but
behaviour in both gender groups, differing in socialist production. We
In the impression created is
expression between boys and girls yet don’t have to regulate
reality that boys and girls are a priori
equally aggressive in their own way. Boys it, so long as it
the kids competitive, not that boys and
tried to grab the toy, or chase the child regulates itself.
gave girls become competitive if you do
the
w i t h the toy, while girls punished the
unusually mean things to them. In this
owner owner with more subtle ploys
view, the experimenters actually created
a hard including social exclusion,
the very behaviour they thought they were
time whispering and hiding.
‘discovering’. What is missing is any account of the
What is curious about this
children’s behaviour before the toys are removed, but
experiment is not so much the
one can reasonably assume a greater level of cooperative
result but the interpretation
play. Socialists would draw a quite different conclusion from
placed on it. The
all this. Instead of showing that girls are as competitive as boys
study focussed
(and why wouldn’t they be?), the study demonstrates effectively
entirely on
that private property is a hugely divisive social factor, even
the gender
among four-year olds. The significance of this can scarcely be
characteristics
overstated. In the one interpretation, we are innately and will
of competitive
always be competitive, implying the inevitability of social models
behaviour
built on that behaviour. In the other, such behaviour is provoked
w i t h o u t
in us only when an outside agency actively dispossesses and
appearing
disempowers us, implying the desirability of developing a social
to consider
model which avoids doing this to us.
w h a t

4
4 Socialist Standard September 2008

September 08 bdh.indd 4 22/8/08 11:40:57


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Socialist Standard September 2008 5

September 08 bdh.indd 5 22/8/08 11:40:57


War in Georgia

T
he war in Georgia seems to Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
be over. How it began is still After a period of weakness, Russia Not worth war with Russia
not clear. The first major is now reclaiming great power status The dominant view among
military action was Georgia’s and a sphere of influence. In the our masters, fortunately, is that
bombardment of Tskhinval, but military field, the main goals are to they have no interests at stake in
some claim that this was itself a prevent Georgia and Ukraine joining Georgia worth the risk of war with
response to escalation in the low- NATO and block the deployment Russia. They have only one really
intensity fighting in the villages of of ABM systems in Poland and the important economic interest in
South Ossetia that has been going Czech Republic. In addition, Russia Georgia: the pipelines connecting
on for many years. In any case, the will not allow post-Soviet states to the Caspian oil and gas fields with
Georgian assault on South Ossetia cooperate with the U.S. in any attack Turkey’s Mediterranean coast (Baku
gave Russia a golden opportunity on Iran. – Ceyhan), which pass through the
to pursue its own goals under cover The Russian operation has south of the country. Significantly,
of humanitarian intervention (see succeeded in keeping Georgia out of although Russia bombed many
last month’s Material World). NATO for the foreseeable future: it valuable assets in Georgia care was
In general, both sides have has demonstrated the risks involved taken not to bomb these pipelines.
excelled in hypocrisy. Russia as the and several of the existing European Perhaps secret assurances were
protector of small peoples – after member states are unwilling to given that the pipelines would not be
Chechnya? The United States as the take those risks. Another Russian damaged.
champion of national sovereignty goal – not yet achieved – is to oust The Russian rulers too have no
against foreign aggression – after Saakashvili, who is rightly viewed really vital economic (as opposed
Iraq? And yet there are always people as an American client. (The “rose to strategic) interest in Georgia.
prepared to take such guff seriously, revolution” that brought him to Abkhazia has long been their
or pretend to. power in 2003 was funded by the favorite vacation spot and still
U.S. government, through such has considerable tourist potential.
Three levels agencies as the National Endowment Western Georgia is a traditional
The context of the war needs to be for Democracy.) source of tea, tobacco, walnuts and
understood at three levels: citrus fruit.
Level 1: the struggle within Western ruling class deeply
Georgia for control over territory, divided on Russia Shared responsibility
waged by ethnically based mini- It would be a mistake to interpret Our hearts go out to the many
states (Georgian, Abkhaz, Osset). even the knee-jerk support of the thousands of ordinary working
Level 2: the confrontation American media for Georgia as people who have borne the brunt
between Georgia and Russia. indicative of unequivocal support. of suffering in this war, as they do
Level 3: the renewed great power The U.S. and its allies (with Israel in every war – cowering terrified in
confrontation between Russia and playing a major role) did create the basements as the shells burst above
the West, especially between Russia conditions for war by encouraging them, jumping to their death from
and the U.S. their client and by arming and burning buildings, trudging along the
The West in its propaganda training his forces. However, it roads tired, hungry and thirsty in the
stresses Level 2, casting Russia as appears that Saakashvili started summer heat …
aggressor and Georgia as victim major hostilities on his own, without And yet we also have to say
while obscuring its own role. Russian seeking prior approval from Bush, something that must sound heartless
propaganda stresses Level 1, casting who was enjoying the Olympics at in the circumstances. The majority
Georgians as aggressors and Abkhaz the time. This evidently caused some of these ordinary working people –
and Ossets as victims, and also Level annoyance. The U.S. refused him the of the adults among them – share
3, casting the U.S. and its allies practical support on which he was responsibility for their current
as aggressors and Russia as their counting. Like many ambitious but plight. Because it was they who
victim. inexperienced politicians before him, demonstrated and voted for the
Only by focusing on Level 3 can he overplayed his hand. politicians who ordered the shelling
we grasp what the war is really We must bear in mind that the and the bombing. And most of
about. Western ruling class is deeply divided them, it appears, are still ready to
concerning policy toward Russia. demonstrate and vote for the same
Reclaiming a sphere of Certain forces, especially in the politicians. Because they still believe
influence U.S., are upset that Russia is no that the location of state borders
The rulers of great powers often longer subservient to the West and matters more, infinitely more than
regard the areas immediately beyond regard it once more as an adversary. their own lives or the lives of their
their borders as their rightful “sphere Other forces have a more realistic children. Because they still view as
of influence.” Thus, the U.S. calls view of the shifting balance of world their enemy ordinary working people
Central America and the Caribbean power, are wary of making too many who happen to be of different descent
its “backyard,” while Russia refers enemies and fighting too many wars and speak a different language.
to other parts of the former USSR as at once, and want to maintain a more These delusions, for so long as they
its “near abroad.” They are especially cooperative relationship with Russia. persist, guarantee that this will not
concerned to prevent military ties These forces are particularly strong be the last war.
between outside powers and states in in West European countries that are STEFAN
their sphere of influence. Recall the dependent on Russian gas.

6 Socialist Standard September 2008

September 08 bdh.indd 6 22/8/08 11:40:58


New DVD New Pamphlet
An Inconvenient Question:
Socialism and the Environment
Poles Apart? Capitalism
or Socialism as the
planet heats up
with contributions from Glenn
Morris, Arctic Voice, and Brian
Gardner, The Socialist Party.

Recorded digitally at Conway Hall,


London, 2008.

£5.00 per copy + £1.25 P & P. Send to


the Audio-Visual Department, c/o Head
Office and allow up to 21 days for
dispatch
see order form on page 5 for details

Socialist Standard September 2008 7

September 08 bdh.indd 7 22/8/08 11:40:58


are hampered by weather, low angles director for the VA, Ira Katz, said in an
of the sun in northern climes and, of e-mail last December that of the 18
course, the darkness of night. Once veterans who commit suicide each day,
collected, the solar energy would be four to five of them are under VA care,
safely beamed to Earth via wireless and 12,000 veterans under VA care are
radio transmission, where it would be attempting suicide each year.” (Yahoo
received by antennas near cities and News, 28 July)
other places where large amounts of
power are used. The received energy
would then be converted to electric WHAT CREDIT CRUNCH?
ONLY INSIDE SOCIALISM? power for distribution over the existing “A mysterious Russian billionaire has
“As we face $4.50 a gallon gas, we also grid.” (New York Times, 23 July) trumped his big-spending rivals and
know that alternative energy sources broken a world record by splashing
— coal, oil shale, ethanol, wind and out 500 million euros (£392 million)
BEHIND THE BRAVADO on one of the most sumptuous villas
ground-based solar — are either of “Washington - More than 22,000
limited potential, very expensive, on the French Riveria. (Times, 11
veterans have sought help from a August)
require huge energy storage systems special suicide hot line in its first year,
or harm the environment. There and 1,221 suicides have been averted,
is, however, one potential future the government says. According to a CALIFONIAN NIGHTMARE
energy source that is environmentally recent RAND Corp. study, roughly one “Stockton has become known as
friendly, has essentially unlimited in five soldiers returning from Iraq and Foreclosure Town, USA. With one
potential and can be cost competitive Afghanistan displays symptoms of post- in 25 houses in foreclosure, there
with any renewable source: space traumatic stress disorder, putting them are more properties with mortgages
solar power. Science fiction? Actually, at a higher risk for suicide. Researchers in default here than anywhere in the
no — the technology already exists. at Portland State University found that country. And it is not as if there isn’t
A space solar power system would male veterans are twice as likely to some stiff competition for Stockton’s
involve building large solar energy commit suicide than men who are not dubious accolade in other corners of
collectors in orbit around the Earth. veterans. ...The VA (Veterans Affairs) California, and indeed in the rest of
These panels would collect far more estimates that every year 6,500 veterans America.” (Observer, 10 August)
energy than land-based units, which take their own lives. The mental health

Contact Details
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8 Socialist Standard September 2008

September 08 bdh.indd 8 22/8/08 11:40:58


All
at
Sea
The indications are that
the economy is heading
for a recession, which no
government can prevent.

Brown: thought he could hold back the tide


of capitalism’s business cycle

T
he idea that the market economy management of British capitalism.
can progress steadily, providing The prudence of the erstwhile
for ever-rising levels of growth, Chancellor – and now Prime Minister –
trade and employment, is a fantasy is suddenly in doubt as the economy,
dreamt about by every Chancellor of according to most commentators and
the Exchequer and most politicians analysts, heads towards a recession
generally. This was never more the his government seems powerless to
case than with the former Chancellor prevent. No longer in command of
Gordon Brown who claimed repeatedly everything he surveys, Brown’s frailties
that year-on-year economic growth are suddenly all too apparent, even
was the unique product of his to many of his former supporters.
prudent and circumspect economic Indeed, it is interesting that many of

Socialist Standard September 2008 9

September 08 bdh.indd 9 22/8/08 11:40:59


the commentators who saw little production, crisis and stagnation’ this wasn’t (quite) so based on this
to question in Brown’s outlandish (Capital, Volume 1, p.580. Penguin definition.
claims over the last ten years were Edition). Marx claimed that for a recession
also most often the cheerleaders for There are two related factors (depression or slump – depending on
a housing market bubble they said which drive this boom/slump cycle. your preferred terminology) to occur,
would never burst, and which now Firstly, the fact that production overproduction for particular markets
provides them with endless column takes place with a view to realising had to spread and ‘grip the principal
inches of hard-hitting prose now that a monetary profit. Without this articles of trade’ (Theories of Surplus
it finally has. prospect of profit, production will Value, p.393). In practice, sometimes
Before the housing market crash not take place. Needs without the this generalisation of overproduction
began and when the politicians and ability to pay are left unrecognised, will occur through a ‘knock-on’ effect
mainstream press were still in denial, whether that be housing for those when there is clearly disproportionate
we had, in the May 2007 Socialist unable to get a mortgage or food for growth and overproduction in some
Standard, a different perspective: those unable to pay for it. Secondly, industries that spreads more widely,
‘past history demonstrates that this profit-seeking is conducted by but at other times it doesn’t spread
sooner or later, the current housing hundreds of thousands of competing sufficiently to cause a noticeably
bubble will end in tears. When enterprises whose ultimate aim is wider downturn. Furthermore,
asset prices become completely to increase market share, increase even when it does spread there are
disengaged from what is happening production, and through doing so usually industries that do well in an
in the real economy where wealth is otherwise declining economy, as was
produced and value created, and are the case in the major 1930s slump
only sustained by ever increasing when motor car manufacturing, for
amounts of indebtedness, it cannot “There is little doubt instance, continued to grow while
last – capitalism just does not work other industries contracted.
that way’. According to the Financial that capitalism in most There is little doubt that
Times (9th August) this debt has now
risen from 100 per cent to 170 per
industrialised nations capitalism in most industrialised
nations is long overdue a recession of
cent of household income under is long overdue a sorts – the last widespread one was
New Labour (the highest in the G7 in 1990-92 and the boom since then
countries) and 80 per cent of this has recession” has been far longer than the historic
been secured on property, a perilous average. In this period capitalism
situation for the housing market in has survived the Asian crisis of
particular but also for the economy 1997, the collapse of the world’s
as a whole. increase profits. The problem is biggest hedge fund a year later (the
that the drive to compete for these ironically named Long Term Capital
Business cycle enterprises is their only tangible Management), the spectacular
Growth in the market economy reference point to one another. bursting of the dot-com bubble with
(in the housing sector and more What they do is not co-ordinated its various corporate scandals, the
generally) does not proceed in the and planned, and not linked to attacks on the World Trade Centre
manner of a straight upward line as the demands of other companies and other major political crises, and
imagined on a Treasury graph. Its and industries. Instead, there is the massive 2000-2003 bear market
general direction is upwards over an anarchy of production which in equities, all without officially
the long-term, but growth tends to periodically leads to key sectors of a entering recession in either the US
be uneven, unpredictable, and prone booming economy over-expanding in or UK.
to periodic wild gyrations. For very relation to existing market demand. This time there are two
good reasons this is the way it has That this situation occurred significant forces propelling it in the
always occurred in capitalism and in the US housing market from direction of recession, however: the
there is nothing about the system, 2006 onwards, and has since been aforementioned property market
or the politicians who oversee it, to transmitted to many other property crash which has seen the biggest
suggest it will happen any differently markets including that of the UK, is monthly house price falls in both
in future. now obvious even to most of those the US and UK in history, and
In the nineteenth century the who vehemently denied it would the serious ‘credit crunch’ that
concept of capitalism’s ever-recurring happen. has developed from it. The latter
trade cycle was well-known, the most has occurred because so many
coherent and in-depth analysis of Defining a recession investment products have been based
it being developed by Karl Marx. As The Treasury and Bank of on low-grade (‘sub-prime’) housing
prescient now as it was then, Marx England (along with their counter- debt and as the housing market
summarized his view in the following parts in the United States) officially falls and people cannot pay their
terms: define a recession as ‘two consecutive mortgages much of this debt has to
‘The factory system’s tremendous negative quarters of economic be written off. It was recently enough
capacity for expanding with sudden growth’. By this they mean half a to turn what would have been a six
immense leaps, and its dependence year of economic contraction. The monthly profit for the Royal Bank
on the world market, necessarily give way that statistics are necessarily of Scotland of in excess of £5 billion
rise to the following cycle: feverish compiled (especially considering into a loss of £691 million instead,
production, a consequent glut on the time-lag factor) it is not always and has led RBS and many other
the market, then a contraction of the evident that a recession has been banks to re-capitalise themselves
market, which causes production happening until after the event. through issuing more shares; in
to be crippled. The life of industry In 2001 it was assumed that the the US it nearly led to the complete
becomes a series of periods of United States was in a recession, collapse of one of the largest
moderate activity, prosperity, over- but after the event it turned out that investment banks, Bear Stearns.

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The main problem is that no- credit crunch started, technically It is a useful index because dry bulk
one, sometimes not even the banks entering ‘bear market’ territory. mainly consists of commodities
themselves, know where all of these The problem with stock markets, that act as raw material inputs into
problematic sub-prime investments however, is that they can fall in the production of other goods such
are or how much needs to be written the short-term for all sorts of other as electricity, steel and food. Also,
off. It is this that famously led to an reasons too and also have a tendency demand for these is variable and
almost unprecedented reluctance to over-react to events. When UK elastic whereas the supply of dry
among the banks to lend to one shares lost about 50 per cent of their bulk shipping is inelastic, changing
another last year as they did not value in the 2000-3 bear market little in the short-term because of
trust what was on (or rather not (and US shares almost as much) this the length of time needed to build
on) each other’s balance sheets. reflected little that was happening new tankers. This means changes in
Irrespective of what central banks in the real world of the underlying the index tend to principally reflect
have done with base interest rates, capitalist economy of production and changes in demand. Fluctuations in
it has led to inter-bank lending rates trade. the index have historically proved to
being pushed up to comparative Some economists and analysts be amongst the best lead indicators
historic highs (the spike in LIBOR have argued that the best indicator of economic activity in the market
– the London Inter-bank Offered of an impending recession is what economy there is.
Rate – is what put paid to Northern is called an ‘inverted yield curve’ on This has been demonstrated
Rock’s meteoric rise as it was hugely the money markets. This means a over the last few years, when the
dependent on borrowing on the situation whereby short-term interest Baltic Dry Index surged on the back
money-markets). rates are above long-term rates (the of the booming global economy
The credit system and the money inverse of the usual relationship) and the demand for industrial
markets associated with it are what and in these circumstances banks and agricultural commodities led
oil capitalism’s financial machine. have little incentive to lend long- by China, India, Brazil and other
When they become dysfunctional the term to industry when selective emerging markets. Interestingly,
entire system can suffer; banks are short-term lending is both safer despite a continuation of much of
reluctant to lend either to industry and more profitable. In practice, an this activity, the index has in more
or to individuals, lines of credit inverted yield curve is indeed almost recent times faltered. From the
dry up and companies getting into always a precursor of recessions. beginning of 2005 until the start of
difficulty find that their one possible Unfortunately, like falling stock 2008 the index more than doubled,
lifeline has been cut off. Indeed, it is markets, inverted yield curves can but after some volatile movement
the credit system that tends to act happen at other times too (the US has since fallen from a peak of
as a key transmission mechanism had a significantly inverted yield nearly 11,800 reached in May to
spreading problems in some sectors curve in 2000 and had a curve that around 7,000 at the time of writing,
of the economy to others. flattened and threatened to invert in a fall of around 40 per cent. If this
1998, yet there was no recession on fall continues into the autumn and
Lead indicators either occasion). This time around, beyond, then a widespread, serious
The extent to which the combined the US yield curve inverted in 2006-7 recession is more than likely as it
effects of the housing market crash and has since switched to being will be reflective of a massive decline
and the resultant credit crunch will positive; the UK yield curve inverted in the demand for raw materials
lead to a recession is currently hotly in the wake of the credit crunch required for the world economy.
debated by analysts, though it clearly starting last summer, and has Quite how severe the economic
has the potential to be very serious recently started to flatten out again. downturn proves to be is no small
indeed. Hard data in the coming matter of interest as it will affect
months should prove conclusive one Mine’s A Baltic Dry the lives of hundreds if millions
way or the other as, in truth, there Arguably the best lead indicator of across the globe, leading to falling
are few genuine ‘lead indicators’ of a recession exists as a measurement production, falling property prices,
a slump that can tell us definitively of what is happening in the ‘real’ rising unemployment and acute
that one is about to happen, or economy of production and trade in financial distress for many. And
how deep it will be. For example, capitalism rather than its financial this is far more significant than the
production tends to fall most superstructure. This is a curious distress that is being caused for a
noticeably once the slump is already and little known gauge of economic Prime Minster in Britain who swore
underway and unemployment is activity called the Baltic Dry Index. It that this would never happen and
another lagging indicator, only rising covers dry bulk shipping rates and is who thought he could hold back the
when companies have started cutting managed by the Baltic Exchange in tide of capitalism’s business cycle
back on staffing levels in response to the City of London. through his financial management
difficult trading conditions. Each day the Baltic Exchange skills – a man who has been left
Falling stock markets are better establishes average prices for looking ever more like King Canute
lead indicators of a recession; this shipping various cargoes around instead, staring out to sea with the
is because at the level of individual the world, whether it be 100,000 waves already lapping well above his
companies it is their interim and tones of iron ore from Brazil to the ankles.
preliminary company results along UK or 100,000 tons of soybeans DAP
with quarterly trading statements from the US to India. Essentially,
that typically give advance clues as the index is a barometer of activity
to what is happening on the ground, amongst shipbrokers involved in
and stock markets are usually quick shipping those raw materials that are
to react, as they have been this time. typically the precursors to production
Nearly all major stock markets have around the world, and it measures
at some point fallen 20 per cent or the demand for shipping capacity
more from their peaks since the versus the supply of bulk carriers.

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approval of the Brussels Commission,
the ruling administration of the EU.
Furthermore as part of this programme,
they are prepared to accept a stronger
social element to the EU in terms of
certain aspects of workers rights to in
effect partly compensate workers for
the increased competitive environment
in which they will have to sell their
labour. This political philosophy usually
goes by the name of Christian or Social
Democracy where capitalist engage
with the organised labour movement
taking a long term view of the benefits
to profits that stem from stability and
social cohesion. As against that there
is another rival section to the capitalist
class. These generally operate smaller
A socialist in Ireland looks at the vote there to businesses acting in predominately
national markets or trading almost exclusively with individual
reject the EU’s proposed Treaty of Lisbon.
countries outside Europe such as the USA. They see no real

O
n the 12th of June, voters in the Republic of Ireland need or advantage to be gained from deeper collaboration and
rejected a constitutional proposal to ratify the Lisbon are at a minimum, suspicious or completely opposed to these
Treaty. The rejection has caused ripples across Europe developments. To them other capitalists within Europe are as
and provoked a lively and continuing discussion in the letters much a threat as those outside the EU. They also tend to be
pages of the newspapers and in radio phone-in programmes. more resistant to the social aspects of Europe viewing it as a
It is a quintessential example of what passes for ‘politics’ under cost that confers no particular advantage to them.
capitalism with heated debate amongst the protagonists and Within Ireland, this uncertainty or confusion in the ruling
yet the result is as irrelevant to most people as the composition circles of Europe also manifested itself. On the Yes or pro-treaty
of government here after the next election. Closer inspection of side was an uneasy and in parts unlikely alliance consisting of
the campaign and its aftermath reveals all the pointlessness, most of the important political parties, the employers’ umbrella
chicanery and opportunism of mainstream politics. organisation IBEC, the corresponding labour organisation,
The European Union (although that wasn’t its name at the the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and important sectional
time) was founded by six, reasonably like-minded European groups such as the Farmers organisations. The political parties,
countries by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The aim then (and although they spend huge time and effort in ritualistic attacks
still now) was to make capitalism more efficient throughout the on each other, basically share the same Christian Democratic
continent by organising it on a pan-European scale. The basic ethos which fits in with the EU philosophy and explains their
tenets of permitting the free movement of capital, goods and support for the Treaty. Given the predominance of multi-national
‘labour’ (people in the real world) between member states had companies in Ireland’s industrial portfolio (who located here
the intention of giving capitalists the opportunity to conduct their specifically to take advantage of membership of the EU),
business in the most profitable location at any moment in time. it was no surprise that IBEC also solicited a yes vote. The
Over the last 50 years the Union has grown so that it now has unions’ governing body, the ICTU was won over by the social
nearly 30 member countries ranging from the Mediterranean, concessions in the Treaty and a desire to be in line with the
to the Nordic states and includes most of the pre-1990 Eastern mainstream labour movement on the continent.
bloc. In fact most countries in Europe are now either members, The anti-Treaty side was even more motley in terms of its
candidate members, associate members or at a minimum make-up and consisted of two entirely disparate streams (one
aspirational members. Like any organisation, as it has evolved from the Right and one from the Left) each in turn containing
over time, its governing rules require continual amendments a myriad of sub-organisations. From the right of the political
and the Lisbon Treaty is the latest such initiative. The main spectrum were prominent businessmen such as Ben Dunne
thrust of all these successive amendments has been to put flesh (retail), Ulick McEvaddy (airlines) and most prominently
on and develop the principle of free movement and free trade Declan Ganley (communications). Joining them were a variety
within Europe. of free-market commentators, staunch and unchanging
The problem for the EU is that there is no longer unanimity Europhobes and some reactionary populists. The main plank
amongst what may be termed the European capitalist class as of their opposition to the Lisbon Treaty could be summarised
to how the Union should develop and what are the appropriate by the lessening of Ireland’s influence within Europe due to the
rules for possibly completing structures for it. The Irish proposed loss of automatic national Commissioners and less
referendum debate and result is a manifestation of this and ability for Ireland to set independent tax and national macro-
illustration of how the governing ideas in society are those of economic policies. This Rightist element of the No campaign
the capitalist elite. One section of the capitalist class, controlling also included a curious assortment of very traditional and
large multi-national enterprises that are involved in international conservative nationalists and extreme Catholics worried about
manufacture and tradable services are extremely concerned threats to Ireland’s sovereignty and ability to set independent
about global competition from the USA, China, India, South (i.e. Catholic) social policies. The Left side of opposition to
America etc. They want to see more integration of capitalism Lisbon also had a multitude of identifiable sub-groups each
within Europe by the dismantling of any remaining national with its own grievance. Although the Green Party is part of the
barriers in order to strengthen their position with respect to government, a dissident wing of the Green Party opposed the
these external competitors. Some of this programme would centralising tendencies inherent in the Treaty. Sinn Fein claimed
involve having a uniform tax base throughout Europe and a to be concerned about the effect on the position of Irish workers
‘Services Directive’ whereby capitalists in any country in the of unrestricted access to the Irish market by foreign capitalists
Union would have open access to markets in all the other and also were unhappy with the increasing role of a potential
countries and not be hindered by any local labour or other European army and its effect on Ireland’s traditional neutrality.
regulations. Broadly this section of the capitalist class has the The Greens and Sinn Fein were joined in their opposition

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by a large number of small groups of Leftist,
Trotskyite, Anarchist, ‘Anti-War’ and some
“Private money It is clear that Libertas outspent all the other
bodies involved in the campaign. They were
bizarre single-issue protest organisations (Rural now dictates the helped in this by a court ruling, a decade ago
Hospitals, Palestinian Solidarity, etc.). in connection with another referendum which
Most of the debate was ridiculous. The campaigns and made it illegal for the Government to spend
Yes side warned of economic meltdown if the
Treaty was rejected when everyone knew an
success usually public money on advocating a Yes vote. At the
time this ruling was viewed as a progressive
economic recession was already underway goes to the best measure (levelling the playing field in referenda
caused by factors nothing to do with the issue. campaigns) but all it has led to is the American
Sinn Fein (an organisation responsible for funded groups situation where private money now dictates the
over half of all deaths in the 30-year Troubles
through its former armed wing, the IRA)
and not those campaigns and success usually goes to the
best funded groups and not those with the best
claimed to be worried about growing ‘militarism’ with the best arguments or greater support. The practical
within Europe. The Left groups opposed the effect of the ruling is that the Government
Treaty on the longstanding and remarkably arguments” parties had to spend their own party money and
persistent misapprehension that capitalism resources to encourage a yes vote. This led to
organised on an international basis is something a very token campaign on their behalf as the
reprehensible while if the same society exists on a national party loyalists were hardly going to be enthusiastic about selling
basis, then that is something tolerable. This presumably stems a 260-page technical document to the electorate. Although the
from their aspiration that national capitalism can be more easily main opposition parties (Fine Gael and Labour) were nominally
converted into state capitalism than if it has an international supportive they clearly decided against spending money to
character. In fact some of the claims, mostly by the No side, obtain a result that the government would ultimately claim as
made about the EU were so conspiratorial that they had the air a victory for itself. There is nothing unusual about that; most
of a UFO crank convention. political parties only spend real money on getting their own
In any event, the Treaty was rejected by 53 percent to 46 members elected in sufficient numbers to give them access
percent on a relatively healthy turnout of over 50 percent. While to power where the prospects of enrichment and rewards are
both elements of the No campaign claimed credit for the result, tangible. Spending money to change peoples’ minds for its own
the real winner out of the debate is the mysterious Mr. Declan sake is not a priority. All in all this has left the Irish government
Ganley who in the space of a few short weeks went from being with a headache they could have done without. They are under
an unknown figure to being the perceived architect of the Irish pressure from the leading integrationist countries such as
rejection. He is a self-made millionaire who made his money France and Germany to resolve it before other countries with a
through his close contacts with senior members of the American history of cold feet about European federalism such as Britain,
Bush administration which yielded a number of lucrative Denmark and the Czech Republic join the No bandwagon. At
defence contracts with the US military authorities. Prior to that the same time they are hemmed in by the justifiable taunts of
he had advised a number of former Communist countries in ignoring the peoples’ sovereign will if they ignore or try to legally
Eastern Europe on the implementation of ‘privatisation’ of state finesse the outcome of the vote.
assets and interests. He set up the campaigning organisation, What the future holds for this issue, time will tell. Inevitably
Libertas which provided the bulk of the resources of the No it will be resolved by some compromise and the System will
side in terms of flyers, posters, billboard and newspaper continue. In five, ten or twenty years time, people will look back
advertising. The generous funding of this body is mysterious and marvel at the heat and dust that it has raised and maybe
and under electoral rules does not have to be disclosed until wonder whatever became of Declan Ganley. For Socialists such
next year. Also because it is not a political party, the level of tinkerings with the system are of no real concern. Given that
disclosure about its donors is less stringent than it would be the Treaty itself is mainly technical in nature and independent
otherwise. There are rumours (denied by Libertas) that the studies show it will not make a huge change to the day-to-
organisation is financially supported by right wing elements in day operation of the EU, whether it is ratified or not will not
the Republican Party in America who see a growing and more significantly impact on our lives. Only when the over 90 percent
integrated EU as a future threat in the same way as they now of the world’s people, who make a meaningful contribution to
view China. He is now the toast of Euro-sceptics throughout life on earth, realize that their interests need a new outlet, can
Europe (at least those of a rightist persuasion) and has become politics become real and meaningful.
a leading standard bearer of trans-European opposition to the KEVIN CRONIN
implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. He has been glowingly
endorsed by the British euro-sceptics, UKIP and the Tory right.

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The Scottish Question
The SNP’s victory in the Glasgow East by-election has kept this irrelevant pot boiling. The Labour
Party has always claimed to represent the interest of the worse off majority but now finds itself
deeply unpopular to the point of facing a crisis.

remove them entirely from the picture.


Labour tried to accommodate itself with
business in order to achieve modest social
goals – but this simply left it prey to the
mood swings of the market, with Paul’s
position unchanged.
One noticeable change Labour did
manage to get through was devolution.
We’ve discussed in these pages before how
this was as much jobs for the boys and
girls – as well as providing a handy redoubt
for Labour forces for when they would
eventually lose Downing Street. Their
colossal votes in Scotland and Wales would
make them the permanent natural party of
government in those areas, and would allow
them to circumvent to rock solid Tory core
in the English south east. It would, they
hoped, stymie the challenge from Welsh and
Scottish nationalists to their dominance in
those areas.
After all, they believed that the desire
for the retention of the United Kingdom is
strong. Hence why Gordon Brown has tried
to wrap himself in Britishness – a neat bit of
stealing Tory clothes to win their supporters
over, while his own supporters have nowhere
else to go. At least, that’s the theory. The
problem is, however they were wrong about
the Nationalists – the voters found they could
go to them.
In 2007 Labour lost control of the
Scottish parliament. They had never had a
full majority there (the proportional electoral
system they introduced makes that an
unlikely event) but they had been the biggest
party. It was a close run thing, but they
were beaten into second place by one seat
(and about 20,000 votes). Not only that, but
a new PR system for local government meant
the smashing of the old Labour family run
fiefdoms throughout Scotland, with almost
all councils falling to no overall control.
A part of all that was the demise of the
Scottish “Socialist” Party, one of the most
successful leftist parties of the last fifty
years. It had had six seats in the Scottish
Parliament, before it had imploded over the
behaviour of its charismatic leader Tommy

L
abour has had untrammelled power for over ten Sheridan suing the News of the World
years, and yet now finds itself rejected because it over allegations on his private life (plus a touch of SWP
has failed so spectacularly. Bernard Shaw once skulduggery). It had latched on to regional nationalism,
wrote that any government that robs Peter to pay Paul as a successful means to electoral success.
can count on the support of Paul. Labour has failed The Scottish Nationalists had tacked left, making
to achieve even this modest level of vote buying. social democrat noises to pick off Labour supporters.
Part of their problem was that Peter is just too strong There is nothing intrinsically left-wing about nationalism.
to let himself be robbed – the organised ranks of capital Being a nationalist does not necessarily commit a
and the disorganised might of the market are strong person to any particular reforms or economic principles.
enough to see off any challenge that doesn’t seek to Indeed, technically, the SNP is a one-issue party – for

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an independent Scotland. Their history, though, is David Cameron has announced that he believes that
marked by debates between the minority of hardliners Scottish MPs should not be able to vote on legislation
wanting to stand for nothing but independence, and the in England just as English MPs cannot vote on Scottish
dominant pragmatists who want to win political power issues (because those matters are devolved to the
by offering to administer the current situation, and Scottish parliament). Considering that his party won a
knocking the maximum demand into the long grass. This majority of English seats at the last election, he would
allows people to safely vote for the party of independence say that. If Scotland breaks away this would make
without necessarily voting for independence. In truth, Labour’s return to power in Westminster that much
they stand for no principle different than the other harder, and the SNP would have their cherished dream.
parties, offering to represent and work hard for “you”. The indications are, though, that Scottish voters will
Having formed a minority government, they plan to not opt for independence. At heart, then, the SNP, like
use events in their favour. Just as Labour’s first British Labour, has achieved political success at the expense of
government dressed up in Ruritanian Privy Councillor’s its core project. At heart, in both cases this is because
costumes to prove that they weren’t revolutionists, so they have sought power by telling people they agree with
too the Nationalists have accepted political responsibility what they think, rather than trying to change minds. The
within the Union to try to show that they are trustworthy quick route to power is to buy people’s votes with popular
and to win people to their cause while in power. Of policies – but the danger in that is that you attract people
course, they generate heated debates between themselves who support those policies, but not necessarily your
and Westminster, and try to provoke controversy. Of wider aims. They’ll simply up and leave when someone
course, they intend to legislate for a referendum on offers them something better. Political time, effort and
independence – but only after they have been in office consciousness are wasted arguing to and fro on such
some while. So, even if that is rejected, they have a fair nonsense.
chance of holding onto their jobs. Ultimately, such baubles are thrown around by the
What some commentators look to, though, is after the political hacks in order to win for themselves the major
next UK election. It seems increasingly likely the Tories prizes. Workers have nothing to gain from the redrawing
will end up ahead of Labour. It is even possible, after the of the boundaries, but regional entrepreneurs and
Glasgow East by-election result, that the SNP could take bureaucrats certainly do have a chance of making good
a majority of Scottish seats. Following the death of John if only they can persuade the electorate to back them.
MacDougall Labour MP for the Fife town of Glenrothes Capitalism knows no boundaries, money has no accent.
there will be another by-election in the autumn. This Yet the Scottish question continues to play a major part
is another Labour safe seat, and losing again may be in the ongoing passing show of UK politics.
fatal for Gordon Brown’s premiership – and spell almost PIK SMEET
certain disaster at the next general election.

The coming purge when machinery is scrapped or factories pulled down but
also in terms of the depreciation of capital with the physical
elements in which it is embodied not being affected. This is the
Is it a depression or just a recession?
purge Duncan talks about. Marx explained:
According to the Penguin Dictionary of
“Values used as capital are prevented from acting again
Economics, a recession is “an imprecise
as capital in the hands of the same person. The old capitalists
term given to a sharp slow-down in the
go bankrupt. If the value of the commodities from whose sale
Cooking rate of economic growth or a modest
decline in economic activity”. This as
a capitalist reproduces his capital was equal to £12,000, of
the distinct “from a slump or depression
which say £2,000 were profit, and their price falls to £6,000,
then the capitalist can neither meet his contracted obligations
Books 1 which is a more severe and prolonged
nor, even if he had none, could he, with the £6,000 restart
downturn”. Government statisticians
his business on the former scale, for the commodity prices
register a recession when GDP falls for
have risen once more to the level of their cost-prices. In this
two successive quarters.
way, £6,000 has been destroyed, although the buyer of these
On this definition Britain is not in a recession – not yet. But
commodities, because he has acquired them at half their
most economy-watchers expect that this stage will soon be
cost-price, can go ahead very well once business livens up
reached. Gary Duncan, economics editor of the Times, even
again, and may even have made a profit. A large part of the
writes that this would not be such a bad thing:
nominal capital of the society, i.e., of the exchange-value of
“If Britain is to succumb to recession we need to remember
the existing capital, is once for all destroyed, although this very
that such periods are a virtually inescapable feature of even
destruction, since it does not affect the use-value, may very
the most successful capitalist economies, even a necessary
much expedite the new reproduction” (Theories of Surplus
one to purge the system of past excesses, inefficient practices
Value, Part Two, p. 496).
and the weakest links among businesses” (21 July).
“This fall in the purely nominal capital,” Marx went on
That’s what Marx said, but it’s not what the economics
“State bonds, shares etc. . . amounts only to the transfer of
textbooks teach (they still cultivate the illusion, relayed by
wealth from one hand to another and will, on the whole, act
politicians, that governments can engineer a steady growth of
favourably upon reproduction, since the parvenus into whose
GDP, i.e. can avoid such periodic “purges”).
hands these stocks or shares fall cheaply, are mostly more
For Marx the accumulation of capital, which is the engine
enterprising than their former owners.”
of economic growth, proceeded in fits and starts, a series
As Britain heads for a recession (in whatever sense) the
of cycles of moderate activity, boom, crisis, slump, recovery,
parvenus are already gathering to buy up failed and failing
moderate activity, boom, crisis, etc. Booms eventually created
business at bargain prices. As well as laughing all the way to
the conditions for the next following slump while slumps
the bank they can justify their unpopular activity as performing
created those for recovery.
a necessary function in capitalism’s business cycle. As indeed
One thing that happens during a slump that helps recovery
they are.
is that capital is destroyed. Not just in the physical sense as

Socialist Standard September 2008 15

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Will Belgium
survive?
No permanent government has emerged from
the elections held in June last year. Does this
matter to the working class there?

B
elgium is a patently artificial state inhabited
by people speaking two different languages. It
survived for many years with one of them (French)
as the dominant language because it was the language
of the ruling class. Now that this has ceased to be the
case, and Dutch (Flemish) has also become a language
of a part of the capitalist class as well as of the state,
Belgium is beginning to show signs of coming apart at
universal state education. The Catholic Church, (the
the seams. Revision of the constitution — How much
majority religion in Belgium, unlike Holland which was a
autonomy should the regions be given? Should or should
Protestant State),vehemently opposed this, insisting on
not Belgium become a federal state? How far out should
its exclusive right to “educate” Catholic children.
the limits of Brussels (basically a French-speaking city
The capitalists got their state. The Belgian constitution
surrounded by Dutch-speaking communes) go? — has
of 1831 was a model of bourgeois-liberal government.
become an issue preventing other issues being dealt with.
Power was in the hands of a parliament elected only
Belgium is a state which the then Great Powers
by wealthy property-owners; the king (a minor German
allowed to be set up in 1830. Before that the territory that
princeling imported specially to fill the post) was a mere
is now Belgium had formed part, first, of the territories
figurehead. Their language, French, became the official
of the King of Spain, then of those of the Emperor of
language of the new State, despite the fact that a majority
Austria. After the French Revolution Belgium became,
of people in its territory spoke Dutch.
in 1792, part of France and remained so until after
But there was a price to pay: the power of the Catholic
the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. While part of France
Church, and its control of its own schools, had to be
the Napoleonic code of law, which swept away feudal
respected. From a short-term point of view, the lack of
remnants, was introduced and manufacturing industry
a modern education system had certain advantages for
began to develop in the South. This, together with
the Belgian capitalists: they were able to extract very
strategic considerations, was one of the main reasons
long hours of work for very low rates of pay, to such an
why in 1815 Belgium was detached from France: not only
extent that Marx once described Belgium as “a capitalists’
were the frontiers of France to be moved further back
paradise”.
from the Rhine, but France was also to be deprived of a
The industrialisation of Belgium, apart from Antwerp
nascent industrial base. Belgium became part of a kind of
and Ghent in the Dutch-speaking North, almost
Belgian-Dutch federation under King William of Holland.
exclusively in Wallonia, the French-speaking Southern
In 1830, in what Belgian history books refer to as
part, brought into existence an industrial working class
a “national revolution”, the wealthy classes of Belgium
and, inevitably, working class attempts at political and
broke away from those of Holland and set up an
industrial organisation. A Belgian Labour Party (Parti
independent State. Though Holland protested, the Great
Ouvrier Belge) was set up in 1885, along the same lines
Powers let this change happen as it still left the territory
as was later the British Labour Party except that the
of Belgium detached from France.
co-operatives rather than the trade unions provided the
The circumstances which led to the establishment
bulk of the members and funds. A deliberate decision
of Belgium are worth recalling in that they have shaped
was taken not to call it the “Belgian Socialist Party” on
the Belgian political scene to this day. Holland was
the grounds that the word “socialist” was unacceptable
essentially a trading and agricultural country and as
to many workers. With a start like this, the POB was
such its ruling groups tended to favour free trade.
destined for a pitiful career of gradualism and reformism.
The nascent industrial capitalist class in the south of
The POB was never really even a social-democratic party
Belgium, however, wanted tariff walls as a protection
in the sense that the German SPD was; it never accepted
against British competition. The Dutch government
Marxism as its ideology; in fact it had a contempt
did make some moves to accommodate them but not
for theory altogether, concentrating on trying to get
enough. In the end the Belgian capitalists decided to
piecemeal social reforms for the working class; it was in
break away. This was not too difficult in view of the loose,
short a simple “Labour” party.
almost federal character of the Belgian-Dutch State; in
In its early years the POB was at least militant on
addition, the population of Belgium was greater than
one issue of importance to the working class: the right
that of Holland. But the nascent Belgian capitalist class
to vote. The general strike of l893, which forced the
in the South needed support in the Dutch-speaking
Belgian parliament to extend a vote to adult males,
Northern part of the territory. This they managed to do,
was a magnificent episode in the history of the Belgian
despite being French-speaking and anti-clerical in the
working class. The strike did not achieve “one man, one
tradition of the French Revolution, by an opportunist
vote”, since the rich and educated were given more than
alliance with the Catholic Church over the schools issue.
one vote, but it did force the members of the Belgian
The Dutch government wanted to introduce a system of

16 Socialist Standard September 2008

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parliament, in which not wishing to split
Ernest Mandel
there was not a single the working class on
POB representative, to linguistic lines, did not
do what most of them chose to exploit this
were opposed to: grant situation, but it was
a vote to adult (male) taken up to some extent
workers. Later strikes to try to get plural voting abolished by the Catholic unions.
were less successful, but by then the POB had its own Today there is
members of parliament and had begun to get involved in virtually no difference
parliamentary manoeuvres with its new-found allies, the except in ideology —
radical bourgeois Liberals. the FGTB is, on paper,
In fact the Belgian Labourites tended to be, at this committed to “the
time the tail-end or left-wing of the Liberal party. After disappearance of the
more than twenty years of Catholic party rule, the Belgian wages system”, while
Liberals were feeling left out in the cold, but they realised the CSC denounces
they were unlikely to get power again without support the class struggle—
from the POB. Accordingly, in preparation for the 1910 between the two rival
election they launched a great anti-clerical campaign and trade union groups.
attempted to get the leaders of the POB involved. This In practice both act as
was easy, as the POB leaders were anticlerical themselves pure-and-simple, bread-and-butter unions negotiating
(and indeed many were freemasons). It is quite clear over wages and conditions of work; on the political field
that had the occasion arose (which it didn’t, because their leaders are reformists, being supporters either of the
the Catholic party won the election) the POB would have Belgian Socialist Party (as, unfortunately for us genuine
supported a Liberal administration and would probably socialists, the POB has been called since 1945) or of the
have gone so far as to have formed an anti-clerical catholic political party.
coalition with them. This no doubt would have caused a The other great division in the Belgian working
stir in the Second International, to which the POB was class besides the catholic/anti-clerical one is of course
affiliated along with other Labour and Social-Democratic language. As stated, despite being the minority language,
parties. After the First World War, of course, all the French was made the official language of the Belgian
Social-Democratic parties were prepared to take power State set up in 1830. Dutch in fact has only been given
within capitalism and accept responsibility for running completely equal status with French since 1932. Since
it, but it is a measure of the depth of the reformism of the last world war the centre of economic gravity in
the POB that they would have been prepared to do this in Belgium has tended to shift from Wallonia, the French-
1910 when their fellow reformists still had some doubts. speaking South, to Flanders, the Dutch-speaking North,
The Belgian Liberals were, by and large, French- and the numerical superiority of Dutch-speakers has
speaking and anticlerical. As in practice their leftwing, began to make itself felt on the political scene.
the POB shared these characteristics, with unfortunate The man who must share a great responsibility for
results for the development of the Belgian trade union side-tracking the French-speaking part of the Belgian
movement, which took place mainly after the founding of working class on the language issue was a militant trade
the POB and partly under its auspices. As the industrial union leader in the Liège engineering industry, André
centre of Belgium was in the French-speaking South it Renard, who died in 1962 and who is still something of
was natural that the trade union movement should be a myth for many militant trade unionists in Belgium,
strongest there, but it was by no means inevitable that Towards the end of the grande grève, the general strike
this movement should have been dominated by an anti- of 1960-1 over the government’s attempt to cut workers’
clerical political party, thus cutting itself off from workers living standards, Renard suddenly introduced the
of catholic origin. quite unrelated political issue of “federalism”. Claiming
It would be wrong to put the entire blame on the POB that the workers in the French-speaking south, where
for the present split in the Belgian trade union movement the strike was virtually solid, had been betrayed by
into two main groups, each with about a million the Dutch-speakers in the North (where the Catholic
members: the Labourite Fédération Générale du Travail unions, following a lead given by Cardinal Van Roey in
de Belgique and the self-explanatory Confédération des his Christmas message, urged their members to stay at
Syndicats Chrétiens (which is in fact the larger). The work), Renard argued that if Wallonia had the power to
Catholic Church shares an equal blame; they combatted pass its own laws on economic matters it would be able to
the POB before the first world war by organising rival carry out various “anti-capitalist structural reforms”. He
co-operatives, sick clubs — and trade unions. Their called for Belgium to be converted into a loose federation
trade unions didn’t have much success before the which would give Wallonia this power, virtually a demand
first world war, but grew rapidly between the wars as for independence of course. This demand, and the
industrialization spread to the Northern part of Belgium. reformist strategy behind it was supported by both the
Employers preferred to deal with the less militant so-called Communist Party (which, under proportional
Catholic unions than with the “socialist” unions and their representation, had a handful of members of parliament)
talk of the class struggle. But the Catholic unions also and the Trotskyists (including, conspicuously, their
took up a very real grievance which the Labourite unions international leader, Ernest Mandel, who was from
tended to neglect: the position of the Dutch language, Belgium).
spoken by workers in the North of Belgium. The effect of this appeal was to heighten language-
French was the official language of Belgium after consciousness amongst French-speakers. In the years
1830. It was the language of the State and, even in the that followed French-speaking federalist groups increased
Dutch-speaking area, the language of the bourgeoisie. their representation in parliament. So, on the other side,
Thus in Northern Belgium a Dutch-speaking working did the Dutch-speaking federalists, organised in a series
class faced a French-speaking capitalist class. The far right parties. Today, it is the Flemish federalists
Labourite unions, perhaps for the very good reason of and separatists who have been making the running,
continued on page 22
Socialist Standard September 2008 17

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The Homer of the Cesspit
A hundred years ago this year Emile Zola’s remains were
transferred to the Pantheon in Paris.

O
n 4 June 1908, a horse drawn hearse carrying within a few years had written his first novel. His earliest
a coffin containing the six years dead corpse of novels were a form of experimentation in ‘materialism’
novelist Emile Zola was led through the streets - demonstrating supposedly ‘scientific’ theories through
of Paris. Hundreds of police and troops were drafted in literature. Madeleine Ferat (the ‘imprinting’ of a woman
to control the huge hostile crowds. After lying in state with first lover) and the racy Thérèse Raquin (the
overnight, the bones of the ‘maître’ were interred in the predetermination of events by innate ‘temperaments’)
Pantheon, the resting place of the great and good of date from this time. In fact there was nothing scientific at
France. The ceremony was solemn and dignified, but all about these novels as the evidence was, as indeed it
immediately afterwards violence again broke out with a would be in a novel, manufactured and the theories mere
determined assassination attempt pseudo-scientific garbage.
made upon a certain army officer The main product of Zola’s
who had become a close friend of literary career was the twenty
the dead man. The violent and bitter volume Rougon-Macquart
sentiments which had accompanied cycle, begun in late 1870
Zola’s life continued after his death. and finished a quarter of a
Emile Zola is principally famous century and 2,500,000 words
in Britain for his obscenity. Indeed later. Basically the series was
Zola was the only writer to have intended as a hatchet job on
his works outlawed in this country Louis Napoleon and his Second
in the nineteenth century. In the Empire as experienced by the
parliamentary debate leading to respectable Rougon family and
the ban Samuel Smith, MP for the unmentionable Macquarts.
Flintshire commented: “Nothing The collapse of the Empire within
more diabolical has ever been a year of the commencement of
written by the pen of man; they are the cycle did not however render
only fit for swine, and those who the works of mere historical
read them must turn their minds interest, because social and
into cesspools.” Even in his own economic conditions did not
country Zola was equally loathed: materially alter under the Third
“No one before him has ever created Emile Zola Republic and thus the Rougon-
such a heap of filth. That is his Macquart became a general
monument, the greatness of which condemnation of contemporary
no one can contest. Never has a man made such an effort society. The Rougon-Macquart is the first great family
to vilify humanity, to insult every aspect of beauty and saga in literature but each novel can be read individually
love, to deny all that is good and decent” wrote Anatole and many readers are not aware that there even is such
France in 1887. A casual reading of a selection of Zola’s a series.
novels would indeed would give this impression. Some The first few volumes were badly received, despite the
of the scenes in his books are as bawdy and shocking literary merits of for instance La Ventre de Paris (“The
as they were when written in the supposedly repressed Belly of Paris” known as The Fat and the Thin in Britain).
nineteenth century. Yet the graphic sex and violence Only with L’Assomoir (published under various titles
serves a purpose. For Zola was a man with a social in Britain, including The Dram Shop) in 1876 did fame
conscience, not a revolutionary certainly but certainly a arrive. This classic tale of the effects of alcohol was meant
radical reformer, which is reflected in his writings. And as a criticism of the slums (“My novel is simple enough.
it is as a propagandist that Zola must be primarily of It relates the downfall of a working-class family ruined
interest to the socialist. by its environs”) but struck a cord with the public and
Born in Paris in 1840 but raised in the small town of became a perennial hit with the temperance movement.
Aix en Provence (portrayed as Plassans in many of his The use of slang and the real attempt to portray working
novels), Zola was the son of a civil engineer of Italian class life was inspirational (“If you wish to have the same
origins. His father died when he was just small and sources of inspiration as the ancients, if you wish to
thereafter the family had little spare money. When he rediscover the breadth of the heroic ages, you must study
was 18, Zola moved to Paris. A failure as a student, Zola and depict the common people”) and a real eye catching
got a miserable job as a clerk, which he soon gave up to novelty.
devote his life to poetry. Zola attempted to dedicate his In 1880 Zola followed up this success with Nana.
life to romantic poetry but found there was no possibility With its graphic depictions of high level prostitution,
of earning a living from it – indeed at this point in his life Nana made Zola not merely notable but truly notorious.
he was living in a ramshackle garret trapping and eating Yet this was a deeply moral book with a high purpose. A
sparrows to survive. Instead he turned to journalism puritan in real life (even his mistress seems to have been
from whence he learned the value of sensationalism and acquired with the sole purpose of reproduction) Zola uses
the importance of the exposé. the book as a warning against vice among the leaders of a
Zola however had not given up the literary life and nation, as a cause of military defeat and destruction both

18 Socialist Standard September 2008

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personally and nationally. The intention was to make negative and very far from objective.
plain the disgusting hypocrisy of the regime. The following year saw the conclusion of the cycle and
In 1885 came the most notable of Zola’s books to the Zola at the height of his literary fame. A contemporary
modern reader and one which has pride of place in every noted that the publication of a new Zola was “a boulevard
worker’s library, the classic Germinal. Written from 2 event looked forward to for days previously. On the
April 1884 to 23 January 1885 and originally to be called mornings of publication huge piles of the yellow-
Red Harvest, Germinal tells the tale of a strike in the backed volumes may be seen heaped up on the stalls
coal mining area of north east France as seen through of booksellers, and by noon the boulevard is flecked by
the eyes of Étienne Lantier, an outsider. Very violent and yellow spots as people hurry along, each holding in his
explicit in places, Germinal brilliantly depicts the effects hand the eagerly purchased volume.”
of the vast impersonal force that is capitalism and the Zola, having completed the Rougon-Macquart, was at
misery and oppression it brings to everyday life. Zola a bit of a loss of what to do next. A series of controversial
made his intention in writing the book clear: “everything anti-clerical novels followed. However he was most
must follow on logically, starting from little factual famous at this time for his role in the Dreyfus case.
details, from the original unhappiness and suffering, Essentially Dreyfus, an upright but standoffish Jewish
the cause of which is universal, and traceable to the army officer, was made a scapegoat by aristocratic
unknown social factor, the god Capital, crouching in its army officers unjustly accused of espionage. Zola
temple like a fat, glutted beast, monstrous in satiety; all liked a good fight and had an eye for self-publicity
that taking place not by the desire of the masters that but the Hitchcockian scenario of a man accused of a
I show on the stage, but arising from a state of affairs crime he had not committed would have appealed to
beyond their control and determined by the age.” As with his humanitarian sentiments. The series of deliberate
other works he did not suggest remedies but regarded his forgeries and the extensive cover up by the military
mission as merely to publicise the problem: “Germinal revealed the extent of anti-semitism in France and Zola’s
is a work of pity, and not a work of revolution”. Long forthright support of an unpopular cause made him the
acknowledged as one of the great classics of French most hated man in France virtually overnight. The death
literature, Germinal is the only work of Zola to be threats and persistent mobbing sent Zola into temporary
continuously in print in Britain. Interestingly Germinal exile but Dreyfus was ultimately exonerated although
was not the best selling of Zola’s novels at the time Zola never regained his former popularity.
coming sixth after Nana, La Terre, La Débâcle, L’Assomoir The experience further radicalised Zola, perhaps
and the dreadful Lourdes. because of the staunch support given Zola during the
In La Débâcle of 1892, Zola virtually invented the Dreyfus case by the French leftwingers, and within a
war novel as the earlier La Bête Humaine had the few years he became viewed as a socialist. His political
railway murder story. La Débâcle was a well-researched views in this period can be particularly seen in Travail
story of the Franco-Prussian war. Its treatment of the (work). Based on the Fourierist (utopian socialist) ideas
Communards was, given Zola’s radicalism, surprisingly he came into contact with at the turn of the century,

It’s the System, stupid That this is an option within the capitalist profit system? That
it wouldn’t be such a bad system if only capitalist corporations
“£1 a Litre? BASTARDS!” So reads a wouldn’t behave as bastards?
recent Class War sticker (well, actually, The campaign against Foxtons, too, gives a wrong
not so recent, as petrol is now well message. Foxtons have acquired a reputation for sharp
over a £1 a litre). Amusing but typical practice. Targetting them gives the impression that what is
Cooking of the populism they go in for. People being criticised is not the capitalist system as such but only
the excesses which some capitalist firms engage in. If these
don’t like having to pay more for their
the petrol, so blame the petrol companies excesses were eliminated or suppressed then things would be
Books 2 for putting up the price. It’s the same OK.
with their campaign against the estate Both main parties have played this game, and still do.
agents, Foxtons. People don’t like estate agents, so let’s target The Labour Party used to criticise certain capitalist firms for
the one with the worst reputation. “profiteering”, i.e. making too much profit, being too ruthless
But is this the message that people who are supposed to in pursuing profits. Presumably if only they’d be satisfied with
be against capitalism as a system should be wanting to get normal profits, that would be alright. And it’s what Ted Heath
across? Calling the petrol companies “bastards” suggests that did when, as Tory Prime Minister, he described the behaviour
their decision to raise prices is a personal one on the part of of Tiny Rowlands – a particularly predatory capitalist – as the
those in charge of them; that they had some other choice, but “unacceptable face of capitalism”. Which suggests that there is
deliberately chose this one. But did they? They are probably an acceptable face of capitalism. Which of course is what he
not very nice people (nobody who has clawed their way to the believed – and which, unfortunately, is the same message that
top of a corporate hierarchy is likely to be), but, whatever their the Class War campaigns will convey to people.
personal traits or views, they are acting in this context as what Robert Tressell got it right in The Ragged Trousered
Marx called “functionaries of capital”. As people in charge of Philanthropists when he wrote:
capitalist corporations, they have to seek to maximise profits, “They all hated and blamed Rushton. Yet if they had been
in this case by fixing the price of petrol at what they judge the in Rushton’s place they would have been compelled to adopt
market will bear. the same methods, or become bankrupt; for it is obvious that
What does Class War expect them to do – or rather, what the only way to compete successfully against other employers
is the interpretation those who see their sticker and share its who are sweaters is to be a sweater yourself. Therefore no
sentiment are likely to give it? That it would be nice if the petrol one who is an upholder of the present system can consistently
companies sacrificed this chance of maximising their profits? blame any of these men. Blame the system” (chapter 21).

Socialist Standard September 2008 19

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Book Reviews
Travail is Zola’s only work of science To Dream the Impossibilist trade union struggle was not part
fiction and depicts a harmonious Dream of the class struggle, but only a
society without government or “commodity struggle”. This was not
classes, where free love reigns and the view of all SPC members many of
religion has died away. Travail is far The Impossibilists. A Brief Profile whom were active unionists. Later,
from being the French News From of the Socialist Party of Canada. some were to be jailed for their part
Nowhere however. Zola’s brave new By Peter E. Newell. Athena Press. in organising the 1919 Winnipeg
world originates in local experiment 2008. General Strike. Other SPC members
rather than revolution and is based were instrumental in founding the
on the voluntary (!) cooperation of One Big Union in 1919; which was
capital and labour. Unlike earlier The SDF in Britain was a reformist not, as its name might suggest, a
utopian socialist schemes, the Travail organisation with a revolutionary “syndicalist” union as the SPC was
commune is based on a steelworks minority (which eventually broke always strongly insistent on the
rather than agriculture but the away). The Socialist Party of Canada imperative need for the working
Fourierist origins are still rather was the opposite: a revolutionary class to win control of political power
obvious – the commune is termed the party with a reformist minority. before trying to change society.
Crècherie, not much different from Formed in 1905 as an amalgamation Like the SPGB, the SPC had
Fourier’s five fingered phalanstery. of parties from the different no hesitation in opposing the First
Zola was found dead of carbon provinces of Canada, it sought to World War from day one – and
monoxide poisoning in his flat in be “impossibilist”, i.e. not to seek the SPC, with some 2000 to 3000
Paris on 29 September 1902. There reforms of capitalism but to advocate members would have been ten times
have been persistent rumours of a only the capture of political power for bigger than the SPGB – but the
deliberately blocked chimney and socialism. Russian Revolution unhinged it. The
the death was certainly odd. If it However, it couldn’t avoid the members of the party’s Dominion
was murder, demise at the hands of reform issue as it won a few seats Executive Committee took the view
the anti-Dreyfusards in the cause of in elections. It therefore had to that the working class had won
justice would have been no shameful decide what these elected socialists control of political power in Russia
death. should do. Inevitably (and sensibly) in November 1917 (even though
Zola’s work is difficult to it decided that they should use they recognised that socialism could
summarise. Despite the self-applied their position not just to propagate not be the outcome, conditions
labels of ‘Realism’ or ‘naturalism’ socialist views, but also to try to not being ripe for this). This was
there is much that is unrealistic “advance the interests of the working a view shared by most members;
and unnatural about his novels. But class and aid workers in their class which made them an easy prey
art is not a mirror and the ability to struggle against capitalism”. The for Bolshevik propagandists who
create characters larger than life and trouble was the SPC’s councillors deliberately set out, on orders from
the extensive use of allegories and had not been elected by socialist Moscow, to win over the SPC. They
symbolism inject an epic tone into votes alone but, precisely, as people did not succeed, as a referendum
the drab real life world comparable workers considered would stand rejected the 21 conditions laid down
with the Coen Brothers films. The up and speak for them. When the by Lenin for affiliation to the Third
melodrama and seemingly endless reformists broke away from the International. Those in favour of
descriptive passages are perhaps SPC in 1911 (to form the Social this then formed the Workers Party
not much to today’s taste, but are Democratic Party of Canada) the which many former SPC members
preferable to the insipid ‘chick lit’ SPC’s three British Columbia joined (including the future Leader
of modern times. Although some legislative assembly members left to of the Canadian Communist Party,
of his work was created purely for join them. One, Charles O’Brien in Tim Buck, who had even also been
entertainment purposes, Zola’s main Alberta, stayed. One of his speeches a member of the short-lived Socialist
aim was to use the form of the novel in the legislature was published as Party of North America whose
to raise awareness of social problems: a pamphlet (which can be found at declaration of principles Newell
“My novels have always been written www.worldsocialism.org/canada/ mentions was based on that of the
with a higher aim than merely to proletarian.in.politics.htm ), but he SPGB). The SPC staggered on for a
amuse. I have so high an opinion of lost the next election. few more years but disbanded itself
the novel as a means of expression The similar position taken up in 1925.
that I have chosen it as the form in by the SPGB on this issue was Newell records all these events,
which to present to the world what I undoubtedly influenced by that of the basing himself on secondary sources
wish to say on the social, scientific, SPC (even though a minority of SPGB which he usefully summarises.
and psychological problems that members disagreed, arguing that In 1931 some former members
occupy the minds of thinking men” Socialist MPs should never vote for of the SPC decided to reconstitute
(quoted in EA Vizetelly’s Zola in any reform measure). The Canadian it, accepting as its platform the
England). As such works such as party probably also influenced the object and declaration of the SPGB.
Germinal were greatly successful at SPGB’s policy of writing “Socialism” There has been some controversy
the time, although are perhaps now a across the ballot paper when there as to whether the new SPC was
little dated. Perhaps the main lesson was no socialist candidate standing. a continuation of the old. Newell
to be drawn from Zola is that the best This was already being advocated in argues that it was, even though
form of propaganda is that which is 1903 by the Socialist Party of British other ex-SPC members went into the
not seen as propaganda – a maxim Columbia. Communist Party and various Labour
we would all do well to pay attention On another issue the very early parties. Most of the members of the
to. SPC took up a position that was new SPC had been members of the
KAZ never that of the SPGB. The editor old one, including a former editor
of its paper, the Western Clarion, of the Western Clarion and a former
E. T. Kingsley, argued that the member of the Manitoba Legislative

20 Socialist Standard September 2008

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Meetings
Assembly. However, two other ex-
members more well known on this
in total to millions of pounds. In
fact, they – rather than the trade
South West
Saturday 13 September, 2.00 till 5.00pm
side of the Atlantic – Charlie Lestor unions – funded Labour’s last three
and Bill Pritchard – got involved in successful election campaigns. Should socialists go out of their way to
reformist politics and did not become Peston’s chapter on the dealings live a greener lifestyle?
impossibilists again till they left between Blair, Brown, Lord Levy and Village Pub, 33, Wilton Road,Salisbury.
Canada, the one for Britain and the those he call’s Labour’s “plutocratic Further information contact Ray Carr
other for the US. benefactors” can only confirm disgust ray.carr1@ntlworld.com Phone 01202
The new party was much smaller and contempt for the leaders of the 257556 or Veronica Clanchy veronica.
and had far less impact than the old Labour Party for the lengths they are clanchy@hotmail.co.uk, Phone 01202
SPC, but it continued to publish a prepared to go just to stay in power. 569826.
journal (the present one is Imagine) The new super-rich come across Please Bring some food to be held in
and to contest elections (the last as a bunch of loud-mouthed upstarts
common.
in 1978). Newell describes not just who buy companies, “rationalise”
the SPC’s external activity from them at the expense of the workforce, Chiswick
1931 but also its internal life and and then sell them, pocketing a huge Tuesday 16 September. 8.00pm
controversies. These happened personal profit for themselves. Their
The Judeo-Christian-Islamic Religion
and shouldn’t be disguised, but a profit is personal because they own
Speaker: A. Alan
whole chapter on an organisational their own companies outright and so
dispute in the 1960s, which raised have a much freer hand to do what Chiswick Town Hall, Heathfield St, W4
no question of theory or policy, is they want, not having to comply with (nearest tube: Chiswick Park)
possibly too much in a “brief profile”. the normal company law that applies
Newell’s book is not just a to “public”, shareholder-owned East Anglia
chronicle of events. It also covers companies. Sunday 21 September, 12 to 4pm
such matters as reforms, religion, Although he criticises them for Lunch at 1pm
Russia, war, trade unionism and so not paying their fair share of taxes Conservatory of the Rosary Tavern,
also gets across the socialist case as and as a potential threat to political Rosary Road, Norwich.
well as bringing together historical democracy, Peston cannot disguise
research.
ALB
his admiration for them, seeing
them as fulfilling an essential role Manchester
within capitalism of channelling Monday 22 September, 8.30pm
capital into the most profitable lines The Shock Doctrine and Disaster
of activity (instead of it stagnating Capitalism
Loud-Mouthed Upstarts in long-established businesses run Unicorn, Church Street, City Centre
by stuffy ex-Etonians). He wants the

Who runs Britain? How the


managers of pension funds to behave
in the same ruthless way towards the London
Super-Rich are changing our companies they’ve invested the funds Saturday 20 September, 6pm
lives. By Robert Peston, Hodder & in, so as to bring in more money for Which Way the Revolution - What are our
Stroughton. 2008. present and future pensioners. differences?
His chapter on pensions – and the Ian Bone (Class War) and Howard Moss
run-down of final-salary company (Socialist Party)
According to Peston, currently the pension schemes – is instructive. Forum followed by open discussion.
BBC’s business editor, it’s the new Employers originally set these up to Chair: Bill Martin (socialist Party)
super-rich of private-equity and retain the loyalty of their salaried 52 Clapham High St, Lodon SW4
hedge-fund capitalists. They run the employees, but over the years
(nearest tube: Clapham North)
country in the sense that the present governments have imposed so many
Labour government feels the need obligations on them (frozen pensions,
to kow-tow to them for fear of them pension transfers, taxes, etc) that A Season of Free Film nights from
taking their businesses elsewhere: it has become no longer worth Sunday 14th September to Sunday
“Much of this book is about how their while keeping them going. So 23rd November at 52 Clapham High
New Labour in Government has they have been disposing of them Street, London. All films start at 4 p.m.
never flinched from the view that to, among others, private-equity
economic disaster for the UK and capitalists who hope to make a profit Sunday 14 September: Animal Farm
electoral disaster for Labour would out of investing their funds. Sunday 28 September: Who Killed the
be inevitable if the super-wealthy In other words, reforms aimed
Electric Car?
ever felt their interests were under at protecting people’s pension
attack in the UK. Blair and Brown rights have had the opposite effect. Sunday 12 October: Judgement Day:
are true believers in one of the main Employers have walked away, Intelligent Design on trial
commandments of the Book of leaving workers without the desired Sunday 26 October: The Corporation
Globalization: ‘Thou shalt not be seen protection. Another lesson in the Sunday 9 November: Zeitgeist
to use the tax system to take from futility of reformism.
Sunday 23 November: The War on
the well-heeled, for fear of driving ALB
them and all their valuable capital Democracy
into exile’”. Picture Credits Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0
A number of these capitalists have cover: Walkstation - steelcase, 2007. p16: Map of Belgium - www.umsl.edu.
been given knighthoods and peerages Punch and Judy - © 2005, Anah. Creative p17: Ernest Mandel - source: www.marxists.
and – this came first of course – have Commons Attribution 2.0 org/nederlands/mandel/index.htm, GNU Free
made very generous contributions p2: No to Lisbon - Indymedia. Doc
to the Labour Party amounting p9: Gordon Brown - © 2008, Flickr. Creative

Socialist Standard September 2008 21

September 08 bdh.indd 21 22/8/08 11:41:02


continued from page 17
reflecting the fact that Flemish Whether Belgium will eventually OBITUARY
capitalists don’t want to continue to split up, or at least become a
pay for the state benefits received federal State of some sort, remains Valentine McEntee
by workers in Wallonia where heavy to be seen, but one thing is clear:
industry (coal, steel, engineering) has this constitutional issue is of no Irish comrades report the
been considerably run down since consequence whatsoever for the sudden death in May of Val
Renard’s day. working class of the area. Whatever McEntee. Val joined the Islington
That the working class in Belgium the constitution it will be that of branch of the party in London in
should be divided on linguistic lines a capitalist State and the working 1982 as a young man in his mid-
is, from a socialist point of view a class will remain propertyless sellers twenties. At the time this was
matter for regret, but it also confirms of labour-power to the minority perhaps the party’s most dynamic
the correctness of our opposition to who own and control the means of branch and Val was one of its active
‘’leftwing” groups in that they should production. members. He worked in the accident
be partly responsible for it. ADAM BUICK
investigation department of British
Rail, and was a keen photographer,
The Conflict in the Middle East building up a collection of photos
of party speakers at Hyde Park and
Another Middle East storm has the final resource when capitalist elsewhere as well as tape-recording
developed. This time it is the sections feel that their sources of
meetings. In the mid-90s he moved
Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq that revenue are threatened.
to Ireland, in a sense back to Ireland
occupy the centre of the stage, with The present flare-up, just as the
Kuwait also stirring. Again oil is the recent Suez dispute, concerns oil
since though bought up in England
mainspring of the eruptions and and the interests of the mammoth he was of Irish traveller origin, to
clashing interests. The struggles oil companies. There is no secret live in a small village in Co. Limerick
concern the rich oil lands and the about this. Reports, articles, and where he earned a sort of living
routes to those areas, with other pronouncements concentrate on as a professional photographer.
economic advantages for the this aspect. In Ireland he took part in the
privileged seeping in. ( . . .) leafletting and other activities of
The revenues from oil are in It is an old oft-repeated story; the members there. His death was
the region of the fabulous. They littered with indecision, broken sudden and, with the authorities
are cherished by the privileged pacts, duplicity, intrigues and wars. unable to contact any relatives, he
possessors, and sought after by In the final chapter the privileged was buried in the local Catholic
privileged non-possessors who always occupy the seat of power church, even though the priest later
want a larger share of the plunder. and the mass of people remain in told a member that he thought he
The toilers who make these subjection. It will be the same in
was an Anglican, no doubt because
revenues possible have no share the Middle East after the present
of his English accent and because
in them. They only receive the turmoil has come to an end. At best
customary payment for the work the most the mass of the people
he didn’t attend mass. The member
they do; some of the Arab workers there can obtain is a standard of decided that discretion was the
receive hardly enough to buy the wage slavery that is equivalent better part of valour and didn’t tell
necessities of life. to what obtains in the so-called the priest the truth: that he had
In spite of the numberless advanced countries. buried a non-believer in consecrated
pronouncements on peace, with ground.
which we have been deluged for (from leaflet reproduced in
decades from all quarters, armed Socialist Standard, September
force, or the threat of it, is always 1958)

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

22 Socialist Standard September 2008

September 08 bdh.indd 22 22/8/08 11:41:02


Westminster Punch And Judy
“PMQs are another example of the corruption of politics”

W
hen the MPs pack their sun cream and head bolstered by a thunder of approval.
off for their long summer break they may leave When he became leader of his party in 2005 David
behind a number of people who are anxious that Cameron promised that, as part of his drive to change
the country is uncared for, unprotected, ungoverned. the face of politics for the better, he would end the
There are others who may simply resent being deprived Punch and Judy aspect of PMQs. However as it dawned
of their weekly fix of Prime Ministers Questions . These on him that Gordon Brown was not as formidable
last have unusual tastes, suggesting that they will not an opponent at the Despatch Box as he had feared
be easily diverted onto a substitute, however proper. he forgot his promise and emerged as an enthusiast
They will not be consoled by suckling on an ice cream, participant in the knockabout. On a recent Today
on the beach at Blackpool or Margate or Southwold, programme on Radio Four he admitted that “I will
contentedly watching a Punch and Judy Show. absolutely hold up my hands and say this is a promise
Prime Ministers Questions (or PMQs) is an I have not been able to deliver…The quieter tone I’d
institution promoted as evidence of the virility of British hoped we might be able to have, the better discussion
parliamentary democracy. As a regular, important part of politics at Prime Minister’s Questions, doesn’t
of House of Commons procedure it began in the 1950s, work”. He did not say whether breaking this promise,
since when it has not been immune comparatively unimportant as it
from the juggling and manoeuvring was, should encourage confidence
customary to our leaders in that he will in future robustly keep
Westminster. In 1997 Tony Blair his word on more vital matters,
announced that New Labour would or whether the affair exposes him
not only abolish poverty, introduce as a trickster no better than the
open government and run an ethical ministers he so zestfully attacks.
foreign policy but also replace the Anyone who doubts that PMQs
two 15 minute session of PMQs on are little more than just another
Tuesday and Thursday with one example of the corruption of
of a half hour on Wednesday. The politics need only consider the
first question of each session must tradition of the Planted Question.
be directed at the Prime Minister, These are asked, usually to
asking about arrangements for the a storm of jeering from the
day; parliamentary procedure then opposition and of approval from
demands that the same person must the government side, by a back
reply to all other questions, whatever bencher who has an assurance
the subject. By this ruse the Prime that their compliance will not
Minister is prevented from avoiding inconvenient exactly damage their promotion prospects. A typical
questions by passing them on to some inadequately style would be “Would my Right Honourable Friend
briefed underling squirming nervously on the front (that’s the Prime Minister) agree that in spite of what
bench. the brainless rabble on the other side think this is the
most caring, competent and effective government this
Ineffective country has ever…” A particularly instructive example
The word “answer” must be allowed a loose was in July, when Richard Burden, MP for Birmingham
interpretation in this context because what is recorded Northfield – who is not famous for toeing the party line –
as an “answer” is very often little more than an evasion got dutifully to his feet to ask whether Britain’s current
-- perhaps a reply to a question which has not been problems are not caused by economic contamination
asked – or a denial, or a straightforward lie. All of which from abroad. The resultant protests were so noisy that
is perfectly understandable for if the Prime Minister the Speaker told Burden to shut up before he had
were to deal truthfully with questions about how their finished. This snub did not prevent Gordon Brown
government was fumbling with the typical problems of answering the partial “question”, although he might
capitalist society – like the current “credit crunch” – it not have been able to hear it. Eagerly joining the Punch
would reveal how utterly ineffective they were. And that and Judy show he had promised to abolish, Cameron
is not supposed to be what PMQs is about. cuttingly commented that “You don’t have to finish
More usually, far from being an opportunity to a planted question to get a planted answer” – which
openly examine a government’s record, PMQs is treated ignored the fact that in the past Tory governments were
by the MPs as encouragement to behave like excessively happy to use the same deception.
unruly children. While a party leader is speaking there No part of our lives can be untouched by the
is a line of compliant sycophants on the bench behind, corruption bred into the property basis and the class
nodding like demented marionettes at what they wish us relationships of capitalism. The politics of the system,
to believe are crucial and conclusive points of argument. played out by the parties in the seats of government, are
The feeblest of jokes – like Vince Cable’s famous sneer immutably shaped by it. At times this corruption is so
about Gordon Brown transforming himself from Stalin blatant that it almost seems the only proper response
to Mr. Bean – has the MPs in paroxysms of helpless is outraged, incredulous laughter. Just as it is when we
laughter. The most ineffective reply to a question - like watch Mr. Punch beating up Judy. Except that that is
Brown endlessly reciting statistics which have been just a bit of harmless fun at the seaside.
cooked up to show, in the face of cruel reality, that his IVAN
government has us all wallowing in prosperity – will be

Socialist Standard September 2008 23

September 08 bdh.indd 23 22/8/08 11:41:02


Stay At Your Desk, Slave these guardians of morality meet to “Patients cannot rely on the NHS to
Now and then a wonderful product discuss whether it is more ethical to save their lives if the cost of doing so is
comes along that the owning class just kill a child with poisonous gas, napalm too great, the Government’s medicines
love. This may be one of them. “The bombs or good old fashioned high watchdog has ruled for the first time. The
maker of a new product that combines explosives we ask ourselves what do National Institute for Clinical Excellence
a treadmill and computer workstation is sellers of death know of ethics. They (Nice) has said the natural impulse to go
banking on the notion are money grubbing killers.  to the aid of individuals in trouble – as
that companies will when vast resources are used to save
invest in products like Chinese Workers Wake Up   a sailor lost at sea – should not apply
the “Walkstation” as a “Doing business in China is to the NHS. The disclosure follows last
way of keeping health beginning to cost real money. week’s controversial decision by Nice to
care costs down and Not that Chinese workers reject four new drugs for kidney cancer
improving overall fitness are buying second homes or even though they have been shown
levels. The device anything like that: Their average to extend life by five to six months.”
allows people to work wage is still a little short of a (Independent, 13 August) To socialists
on their computers dollar an hour. But so many the announcement is far from shocking.
while walking on a Chinese have now left their That is how capitalism operates - if you
treadmill at a slow villages for the factories that the are rich you have access to the best
speed of up to three once bottomless pool of new food, clothing, shelter, education and
kilometers (two miles) young workers is beginning to recreation. Why should it be so shocking
per hour, enabling small amounts of run dry, and the wages of assembly-line to learn that if you are poor you cannot
movement that supporters say have the employees are rising 10 percent a year.” afford the best of medicine either?
potential to reap big health benefits.” (Yahoo News, 15 July) We should echo
(Yahoo News, 13 July) Now all we need the sentiments of an old song, probably The Perfect Worker
is a “Feedstation” that shovels food banned in China now. They occur in “A Ugandan official has suggested to
into your mouth while you work. Oh, The Red Flag - “Arise like starvelings MPs that funerals should be limited to
Charlie Chaplin already envisaged that in from your slumber” Let’s hope so! Saturday afternoons to stop people taking
Modern Times didn’t he? How about the time off work to attend them. Speciosa
“Bedpanstation”? Too much perhaps? Health And Hypocrisy Kazibwe, a former vice-president who
The following announcement caused now heads a state development agency,
What’s Ethics Got To Do With It? a storm of controversy in the media. noted that Uganda’s death rate was very
“European and US defence high. (BBC News, 25 July) Socialists
companies will this week kick used to say that the capitalist’s
off talks on a joint code of idea of the perfect worker was
ethics to cover arms sales. one who left school at 15,
Representatives from the worked 50 weeks a year for 50
industry’s leading trade bodies years and dropped down dead
will meet at the Farnborough the first day he went to collect
Air Show  in the UK on his pension at the post office.
Tuesday. European companies We will have to amend this ideal
have recently developed blueprint in view of the Ugandan
an anti-corruption code in a official’s view. Ideally he would
bid to improve the industry’s die on the Thursday so that
reputation, which has suffered his family could attend his
in the wake of allegations of Saturday funeral without missing
bribery and corruption out on a day producing
in connection with surplus value for
some of its biggest the owning class.
players.” (Financial
Times,13 July) As

ISSN 0037 8259


24 Produced and
Produced and published
published by
by the
the Socialist
Socialist Party
Party of
of Great
Great Britain,
Britain, 52
52 Clapham Socialist
Clapham High Street,Standard
High Street, SW4 September
London SW4
London 7UN
7UN
2008

September 08 bdh.indd 24 22/8/08 11:41:03