Free times are on the way; If you and I agree; To share the world and all it holds. A sane society.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Anarchist is Hailed as Saviour by Obscure Sect

I'm not the messiah, says food activist – but his many worshippers do not believe him.

Members of religious group believe London-born author has come to save the world

By Bobbie Johnson at Friday 19 March

The trouble started when Raj Patel appeared on American TV to plug his latest book, an analysis of the financial crisis called The Value of Nothing.

The London-born author, 37, thought his slot on comedy talkshow The Colbert Report went well enough: the host made a few jokes, Patel talked a little about his work and then, job done, he went back to his home in San Francisco.

Shortly afterwards, however, things took a strange turn. Over the course of a couple of days, cryptic messages started filling his inbox.

"I started getting emails saying 'have you heard of Benjamin Creme?' and 'are you the world teacher?'" he said. "Then all of a sudden it wasn't just random internet folk, but also friends saying, 'Have you seen this?'"

What he had written off as gobbledygook suddenly turned into something altogether more bizarre: he was being lauded by members of an obscure religious group who had decided that Patel – a food activist who grew up in a corner shop in Golders Green in north-west London – was, in fact, the messiah.

Their reasoning? Patel's background and work coincidentally matched a series of prophecies made by an 87-year-old Scottish mystic called Benjamin Creme, the leader of a little-known religious group known as Share International. Because he matched the profile, hundreds of people around the world believed that Patel was the living embodiment of a figure they called Maitreya, the Christ or "the world teacher".

His job? To save the world, and everyone on it.

"It was just really weird," he said. "Clearly a case of mistaken identity and clearly a case of people on the internet getting things wrong."

What started as an oddity kept snowballing until suddenly, in the middle of his book tour and awaiting the arrival of his first child, Patel was inundated by questions, messages of support and even threats. The influx was so heavy, in fact, that he put up a statement on his website referencing Monty Python's Life of Brian and categorically stating that he was not Maitreya.

Instead of settling the issue, however, his denial merely fanned the flames for some believers. In a twist ripped straight from the script of the comedy classic, they said that this disavowal, too, had been prophesied. It seemed like there was nothing to convince them.

"It's the kind of paradox that's inescapable," he said, with a grim humour. "There's very little chance or point trying to dig out of it."

There are many elements of his life that tick the prophetic checklist of his worshippers: a flight from India to the UK as a child, growing up in London, a slight stutter, and appearances on TV. But it is his work that puts him most directly in the frame and causes him the most anguish – the very things the followers of Share believe will indicate that their new messiah has arrived.

Patel's career – spent at Oxford, LSE, the World Bank and with thinktank Food First – has been spent trying to understand the inequalities and problems caused by free market economics, particularly as it relates to the developing world.

His first book, Stuffed and Starved, rips through the problems in global food production and examines how the free market has worked to keep millions hungry (Naomi Klein called it dazzling, while the Guardian's Felicity Lawrence said it was "an impassioned call to action"). The Value of Nothing, meanwhile, draws on the economic collapse to look at how we might fix the system and improve life for billions of people around the globe.

While his goal appears to match Share's vision of worldwide harmony, he says the underlying assumptions it makes are wrong – and possibly even dangerous.

"What I'm arguing in the book is precisely the opposite of the Maitreya: what we need is various kinds of rebellion and transformations about how private property works," he said.

"I don't think a messiah figure is going to be a terribly good launching point for the kinds of politics I'm talking about – for someone who has very strong anarchist sympathies, this has some fairly deep contradictions in it."

To say Patel – with his academic air, stammer and grey-flecked hair – is a reluctant saviour is an understatement. In fact, he rejects the entire notion of saviours. If there is one thing he has learned from his work as an activist in countries such as Zimbabwe and South Africa, it is that there are no easy answers.

"People are very ready to abdicate responsibility and have it shovelled on to someone else's shoulders," he said. "You saw that with Obama most spectacularly, but whenever there's going to be someone who's just going to fix it for you, it's a very attractive story. It's in every mythological structure."

Unravelling exactly what it is that Share International's followers believe, however, is tricky.

The group is an offshoot of the Victorian Theosophy movement founded by Madame Blavatsky that developed a belief system out of an amalgam of various religions, spiritualism and metaphysics.

Creme – who joined a UFO cult in the 1950s before starting Share – has added a cosmic take to the whole concept: he says that Maitreya represents a group of beings from Venus called the Space Brothers.

This 18m-year-old saviour, he says, has been resting somewhere in the Himalayas for 2,000 years and – as a figure who combines messianism for Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims alike – is due to return any time now, uniting humanity and making life better for everybody on earth.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Creme refuses to categorically state whether or not he believes that Patel and Maitreya are one and the same. He suggests that it is not up to him to rule either way, instead blaming media coverage, rather than his own mystical predictions, for making people "hysterical".

"It is not my place," Creme told the writer Scott James, a friend of Patel, recently. "People are looking to Mr Patel because they are looking for the fulfilment of a story which I've been making around the world for the last 35 years."

It is not the first time that Creme, an inscrutable guru with a mop of curly white hair, has courted publicity with his wild pronouncements of a messiah. In 1985 he made another prophecy: that Maitreya would reveal himself to the press in London.

A gaggle of journalists gathered in a Brick Lane curry house for the main event. In the end, the promised saviour failed to materialise. (One candidate, "a man in old robes and a faraway look in his eye", turned out to be a tramp begging for cigarettes, our correspondent wrote at the time).

Patel's rejection of his status as a deity does not seem to have killed off interest from Share's members. Indeed, the situation has invaded his everyday life, such as when two devotees travelled from Detroit – some 2,400 miles away – just to hear him give a short public talk.

"They were really nice people, not in your face, really straightforward – these people do not look like fanatics," he says. "I gave the talk, and they hung around at the end and we had a chat."

It was only then that the pair revealed that they were followers of Creme's teachings.

Patel said: "They said they thought I was the Maitreya … they also said I had appeared in their dreams. I said: 'I'm really flattered that you came all the way here, but it breaks my heart that you came all this way and spent all this money to meet someone who isn't who you think he is.'

"It made me really depressed, actually. That evening I was really down."

While he struggles to cope with this unwanted anointment, his friends and family are more tickled by the situation.

"They think it's hilarious," he said. "My parents came to visit recently, and they brought clothes that said 'he's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy'. To them, it's just amusing."

There have been similar cases in the past, including Steve Cooper, an unemployed man from Tooting, south London, who was identified by a Hindu sect as the reincarnation of a goddess and now lives in a temple in Gujurat with scores of followers.

Unlike some who have the greatness thrust upon them, though, Patel's greatest hope is that Share will leave him alone so that he can get back to normal life.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Zeitgeist Movement: Envisioning A Sustainable Future

This by Travis Walter Donovan in the Huffington Post (16th March) on the Zeitgeist Movement's Zday

"It takes a different value system if you wish to change the world," Jacque Fresco said to a sold out crowd of over 800 in New York City's Upper West Side. Though he may not need to convince these people, many his ardent followers, it will indeed take a restructuring of the mind for those unfamiliar with Fresco's work to realistically accept the ideas he proposes of a new global society that has given up money and property in favor of a shared, sustainable, technology-driven community. The caustic skepticism can already be heard, critics crying out with pointed fingers, decreeing communism, socialism, insanity! But as Fresco himself will tell you, communism is still just another system with banks and social stratification. The kind of world he imagines for the future is much different. To ease the transition, The Zeitgeist Movement provides a wealth of dizzying information detailing why a new global system is not only preferred, but necessary, and just how we can get there.

March 13th, 2010 was the second annual celebration of ZDay. Coordinated by The Zeitgeist Movement, ZDay is an educational event geared toward raising awareness of the movement. While 337 sympathetic events occurred in over 70 countries worldwide, NYC was home to the main event, a 6-hour live web cast presentation with lectures from the movement's key figures, and 30 different countries represented in the audience.

So what exactly is The Zeitgeist Movement? Not even two years old, the movement declares itself as the activist arm of The Venus Project, an organization started in the 1970s by Fresco and his partner, Roxanne Meadows. The Venus Project distributes resources promoting Fresco's vision of an improved society, with the main component being a resource-based economy, rather than a monetary-based one. In Fresco's resource-based economy, the world's resources would be considered as the equal inheritance of all the world's peoples, and would be managed as efficiently and carefully as possible through focusing on the technological potential of sustainable development. It is toward this idea that The Zeitgeist Movement works to educate and inform people.

The movement's founder, Peter Joseph, came to notoriety with his 2007 internet film sensation, Zeitgeist, and it's 2008 successor, Zeitgeist: Addendum. While many people may find it hard to digest the idea of a world without currency, Joseph's argument that our economic system is the source of our greatest social problems was supported with valuable evidence.

Describing how the margin between upper and lower classes is growing larger every day, Joseph cited that 20% of the American population controls 85% of the money. Also mentioning that the Walton family (of Wal-Mart) owns $90 billion while the lower 40% of America own $95 billion. The most startling revelations he divulged, however, were found when he graphed the amount of specific social issues in the world's richest countries against those countries' level of income inequality. The results were astounding, showing that America, a wealthy country but with a vast gap between its rich and poor, is plagued with higher homicide rates, drug use, obesity, mental illness, teenage pregnancy, infant mortality, and imprisonment. On the other hand, countries with much more equal income levels, such as Japan, have better educational scores, longer life expectancies, and higher levels of trust among their populations. The strong correlation is difficult to ignore: the higher a country's income inequality, the more social problems that degrade it, regardless of its GDP.

Joseph seemed well prepared for all the naysayers. For those who argue that the free market is an open system where anyone can achieve wealth, he displayed figures showing that America is one of the most socially immobile countries in the world, meaning that those born poor are likely to stay poor, and those born rich are likely to stay rich. For the argument that the competitive nature of capitalism produces more innovation, Joseph showed statistics that the countries with higher income equality filed more patents per million people each year than the United States and similar countries of larger income gaps.

This is aside from the obvious impact on the climate that a capitalist system creates. In a monetary society, Joseph points out, obsolescence is encouraged, as the shorter lifespan a product has, the more profit it generates in the long-term. Excess waste is built into the system, which flourishes from disposability and inefficiency. In a monetary system, Joseph says, change, abundance, sustainability, and efficiency are the enemies of profit. He goes on to add, "Corporations are not in competition with other corporations but with progress itself."

The plights of today are plainly evident, but how do we solve them? Getting rid of money, ownership and even government might sound like a ludicrous fantasy, but to the over 386,000 registered members of the fast-growing Zeitgeist Movement, it is not an option, but the only chance we have at creating a peaceful society, in harmony with nature, that provides a high-standard of living for everyone. Joseph made the focus clear in his presentation: resource preservation is equal to human survival, and all the social ideologies that currently exist are inadequate because they don't address resources as a part of their fundamental principals.

Joseph emphasized that the solution begins with a remodeling of our social values, starting with education based on sustainability. The ideal society, proposed by the project, would have a worldwide automated computer system actively monitoring the levels of the world's surveyed resources and ranking them according to factors such as their potential, renewability, and pollution. This computer would intelligently make objective decisions as to the uses of these resources based on empirical fact, not biased legislation. Automated labor would be perfected on a mass scale, something frowned upon in capitalism because it is equated with job loss and unemployment. Fresco insists eliminating all mundane jobs that insult human capacity when they can instead be relegated to machines that will act more precisely and productively.

From the maximization of resources and efficiency of automated labor, Fresco imagines a world of abundance, where everything is available to everyone. As idealistic as this may sound, keep in mind that there is currently enough food to feed everyone in the world, but not enough money to pay for it. One billion people (one-sixth of the world) are starving, yet American's throw out approximately 40% of their purchased food. Fresco says that in a world where everything is supplied, the majority of today's crimes would be non-existent, as they are primarily related to obtaining money and property, or born of social inequality. The crimes that still exist would be considered symptomatic of mental aberration, and these people would be given treatment and help, not punished, as no prisons would exist. People would be rewarded with an incentive system for contributions based on social relevance.

Celebrating his 94th birthday, Fresco was lively and animated as he guided the audience through a visual presentation of his conceptual ideas and models for sustainable technology. Wowing the crowd with images that seemed of science fiction, the audience was assured that nothing was unrealistic about his designs, and if science and technology were focused on progress instead of consumption, they would all be easily realized.

The members of The Zeitgeist Movement seem to face an intimidating wall of those who decree their goals as unattainable. But with 250 international chapters forming in just one year and the membership count rapidly growing, it's undeniable that many easily identify with the message. The evidence shows that our current system is leading us on a collision course; our present model of society cannot sustain itself. While some deny this, others ignore it, and there are those who still try to profit off of it. The Zeitgeist Movement highlights that there are individuals who believe in a sustainable future where humanity is not united by religious or political ideology, but by the scientific method, venerated as the savior that can develop a system of human equality, thriving from the cooperation and balance of technology and nature.

Also see this from the February 2010 Socialist Standard on the Zeitgeist Movement.

Millionaire gives away fortune that made him miserable

By Henry Samuel in 8th February Telegraph:

Austrian millionaire Karl Rabeder is giving away every penny of his £3 million fortune after realising his riches were making him unhappy.

Mr Rabeder, 47, a businessman from Telfs is in the process of selling his luxury 3,455 sq ft villa with lake, sauna and spectacular mountain views over the Alps, valued at £1.4 million.

Also for sale is his beautiful old stone farmhouse in Provence with its 17 hectares overlooking the arrière-pays, on the market for £613,000. Already gone is his collection of six gliders valued at £350,000, and a luxury Audi A8, worth around £44,000.

Mr Rabeder has also sold the interior furnishings and accessories business – from vases to artificial flowers – that made his fortune.

"My idea is to have nothing left. Absolutely nothing," he told The Daily Telegraph. "Money is counterproductive – it prevents happiness to come."

Instead, he will move out of his luxury Alpine retreat into a small wooden hut in the mountains or a simple bedsit in Innsbruck.

His entire proceeds are going to charities he set up in Central and Latin America, but he will not even take a salary from these.

"For a long time I believed that more wealth and luxury automatically meant more happiness," he said. "I come from a very poor family where the rules were to work more to achieve more material things, and I applied this for many years," said Mr Rabeder.

But over time, he had another, conflicting feeling.

"More and more I heard the words: 'Stop what you are doing now – all this luxury and consumerism – and start your real life'," he said. "I had the feeling I was working as a slave for things that I did not wish for or need.

I have the feeling that there are lot of people doing the same thing."

However, for many years he said he was simply not "brave" enough to give up all the trappings of his comfortable existence.

The tipping point came while he was on a three-week holiday with his wife to islands of Hawaii.

"It was the biggest shock in my life, when I realised how horrible, soulless and without feeling the five star lifestyle is," he said. "In those three weeks, we spent all the money you could possibly spend. But in all that time, we had the feeling we hadn't met a single real person – that we were all just actors. The staff played the role of being friendly and the guests played the role of being important and nobody was real."

He had similar feelings of guilt while on gliding trips in South America and Africa. "I increasingly got the sensation that there is a connection between our wealth and their poverty," he said.

Suddenly, he realised that "if I don't do it now I won't do it for the rest of my life".

Mr Rabeder decided to raffle his Alpine home, selling 21,999 lottery tickets priced at just £87 each. The Provence house in the village of Cruis is on sale at the local estate agent.

All the money will go into his microcredit charity, which offers small loans to Latin America and builds development aid strategies to self-employed people in El Salvador, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile.

Since selling his belongings, Mr Rabeder said he felt "free, the opposite of heavy".

But he said he did not judge those who chose to keep their wealth. "I do not have the right to give any other person advice. I was just listening to the voice of my heart and soul."

Thanks to Robin at WorldInCommon for spotting the article.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Eco-socialism. From Deep Ecology to Social Justice. By David Pepper

David Pepper’s theme is that Greens, as those concerned about the environment, have more to learn from Marxian socialism (including ourselves who he sees as “orthodox” exponents of this) than from the deep ecologism and anarchism which currently influence them.

The Deep Ecologists are those who argue that the interests of the rest of nature are more important than the interests of the human species. They are the people who argue that the life of a fly is as important as the life of a human and who see humans as a pollutant and our increase in numbers as a plague on the rest of nature. According to them, the only stable future for humans lies in our submission to the laws of Nature which some of them see as the dictates of the goddess Gaia.


Pepper is merciless in his criticism of such mysticism and such anti-humanism and re-asserts the Renaissance and Enlightenment project of seeking the best possible life for all human beings. Socialists, he says, start from a concern for the suffering of humans and look for a solution to this. This makes them “anthropocentric” (as opposed to the “ecocentrism” – Nature first – of the Deep Ecologists). Pepper makes no apology for this. Yes, he says, Socialists are concerned with humans first. This does not mean of course that the plunder and destruction of the rest of nature is therefore justifiable; it simply means that this is rejected as not being in the interests of the human species, not because the interests of Nature come first.

Nor, says Pepper, is it true that humans as such are a pollutant. It is here – in identifying the causes of pollution and environmental degradation – that Greens can in his view learn most from Marx. Marx’s materialist conception of history makes the way humans are organised to meet their material needs the basis of any society. Humans meet their material needs by transforming parts of the rest of nature into things that are useful to them; this in fact is what production is. So the basis of any society is its mode of production which, again, is the same thing as its relationship to the rest of nature. Humans survive by interfering in the rest of nature to change it for their own benefit.

But Deep Ecologists and other Greens are wrong to see this interference as inherently destructive of nature; it might do this but there is no reason why it has to. That humans have to interfere in nature is a fact of human existence. How humans interfere in nature, on the other hand, depends on the kind of society they live in. Present-day society, capitalism, which exists all over the globe (and Pepper is quite clear that what existed in Russia and its satellites was a form of capitalism), is a class-divided society where the means of production are owned and controlled by a tiny minority of the population only.

Demands of capitalism

Capitalism differs from previous class societies in that under it production is not for direct use, not even of the ruling class, but for sale on a market. Competitive pressures to minimise costs and maximise sales, profit-seeking and blind economic growth, with all their destructive effects on the rest of nature, are built-in to capitalism. These, says Pepper, “make capitalism inherently ‘environmentally unfriendly’”:

“Increasing rather than steady profits are needed in order to increase capital accumulation, to reinvest in the hope of creating yet more capital. By definition this is what the system is about . . . Resource conservation, recycling and pollution control are discouraged in the free market by the drive to increase productivity and maximise surplus value. Obviously, such practices involve more costs, and it is good practice for firms to internalise returns but externalise costs – that is, to let society as a whole pay them . . . Externalisation of costs can be seen in atmospheric, water and land pollution, in preferring road to rail transport, in throwaway products and packaging, and indeed in the “rationalisation” of production via machinery - the social costs of resultant unemployment being charged to society as a whole” (pp 92-3).

Pepper concludes that “the ecological contradictions of capitalism make sustainable, or ‘green’ capitalism an impossible dream, therefore a confidence trick”. Most Greens, though they might not express it precisely in this way, are in favour of some form of capitalism, generally smallscale capitalism involving small firms serving local markets. This, says Pepper, reflects their underlying philosophy that “small is beautiful”, a philosophy that leads them to mistakenly blame largescale industry and modern technology as such for causing pollution.

Blaming the messenger

Greens have, says Pepper, a predilection for blaming “soul-destroying, life-destroying industrialism” or “the industrial paradigm” (Porritt, Seeing Green) for the “crisis”, but not specifying its form.

“Does the fault lie in all industrial production, or could we, by adopting proper socialist arrangements, produce, transform nature, reap benefits from science and technology and have growth in needs satisfaction and in life quality: all without bringing on ecological crisis? Socialists unequivocally say ‘yes‘: greens are frequently equivocal, vague or just confused” (p. 144).

Pepper attributes the typical Green view that “small is beautiful” to the influence of anarchism. By opposing centralism as inherently “authoritarian”, argues Pepper, anarchists have encouraged the mistaken attitude that anything Big is necessarily Bad. But small is not necessarily beautiful – all previous class societies to capitalism were based on smallscale production and none of them were at all beautiful.

What all those calling themselves anarchists have in common is opposition to the “state”. This, rather than class society or capitalism, is seen as the main cause of human suffering now and in the past. Indeed, the state is seen as the creator of class society and of capitalism. Anarchists tend to see the state not just as the public power of coercion, as embodied in armed bodies of men, prisons and courts of law, but as any central administrative body. This makes them opponents of any central administration even one without coercive powers. This is the main criticism Pepper has of them since it leads them to favour the in his view unrealistic project of trying to organise society on a completely decentralized basis. Pepper points out that many of today’s environmental problems are world problems – acid rain, global warming, hole in the ozone layer, tropical deforestation, not to mention world poverty, lack of education and disease – that can only be tackled on a world scale, and he is sceptical of this being able to be undertaken effectively by loose adhoc federations of local communities:

“To achieve a globally coordinated egalitarian production and distribution of goods and resources, with utmost ecological care, peace and social justice – to do this anarchistically on the basis of loose, spontaneous, direct democracy (even majority, let alone consensual) among millions of substantially autonomous communes, coops, city regions and bioregions – this stretches credibility” (p. 227).

This leads Pepper to talk in terms of “the need for a state” and to comment that “paradoxically” for orthodox Marxists we in the Socialist Party stand for the abolition of the state. We do indeed stand for the abolition of “the state”, but not in the anarchist sense which sees the state as any permanent central administration. Our objection is not the existence of some permanent administrative body beyond local level but to this body having armed force and prisons at its disposal. It is possessing such powers that makes it a state and it is these coercive powers that we want to abolish, leaving the central body with purely administrative functions. At the same time, of course, it will have to be thoroughly democratised.

No paradox

Seen this way, Pepper’s paradox disappears. Apart from the language used, we are both envisaging the same thing: the continuation of some permanent administrative structure beyond local level. He calls this “some kind of state or state-like institution” and “an enabling ‘state’ or similar institution”. We have an aversion to talking about a “socialist state” – but none at all to talking about a socialist central administrative body. Having said this, neither we (nor Pepper) rule out a fairly high degree of decentralisation and local control; it is just that we recognize the need also for permanent administrative bodies at regional and global as well as local level.

Pepper’s book is in fact a pioneering work in that for the first time in a book of this sort our views are discussed on equal terms and in detail with others who have something to say about capitalism, socialism and ecology. Pepper quotes extensively from our pamphlets and in particular from the tapes of our talks and debates (which he recommends in his Foreword “to readers who want to find out more about socialism from socialists rather than just from more detached and less exciting academic textbooks”). Pepper’s “ecosocialism” is very similar to what we mean by socialism (or communism). He too sees the framework within which humans can regulate their relationship with the rest of nature in an ecologically acceptable way as being a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, freed from the tyranny of the economic laws that operate wherever there is production for sale on a market.

In such a society production and distribution can be geared to satisfying human needs which, contrary to the mythology used to justify capitalism, are not limitless and can be met without over-stretching nature’s resources. In fact satisfactions can be increased – which after all must be the aim of socialism – without doing this:

“An ecological-communist utopia requires the development of productive forces. To say this is not to accept the fatuous market liberal argument that economic growth (of any kind) is needed to ‘create’ the wealth required to be able to afford to clean up the environment (i.e. to clean up the mess created by the growth in the first place). Eco-socialist growth must be a rational, planned development for everyone’s equal benefit, which would therefore be ecologically benign: ‘A society based on common ownership and democratic control, with production solely for use and not sale and profit, alone provides the framework within which humans can meet their needs in ecologically acceptable ways’ (SPGB, Ecology and Socialism, 1990)”.

Pepper continues:

Such socialist development can be green, being predicated on the maxim that there are natural limits to every human’s material needs. They are needs which can therefore be met within the broad limits of nature’s ability to contribute to productive forces. The fact that in socialist development people continuously develop their needs to more sophisticated levels does not have to infringe this maxim. A society richer in the arts, where people eat more varied and cleverly prepared food, use more artfully constructed technology, are more educated, have more varied leisure pursuits, travel more, have more fulfilling relationships and so on, would likely demand less, rather than more, of earth’s carrying capacity, as any green will tell you” (pp 219-20).

How to get there

The big question that remains is how to get from here to there. Pepper writes on this:

“Trying to smash capitalism violently will probably not work while capitalists control the state, so the state must be taken and liberated in some way for the service of all. There are limits to achieving this by attempting a revolution in mass consciousness via education and exemplary lifestylism. Neither can involvement in managing capitalism produce fundamental solutions to environmental crises. Nor will a dictatorship of the proletariat, initiated by a vanguard which then becomes the dictator, be acceptable. An ecologically sound socialist society will not come until most people want it enough to be prepared to create and maintain it. Probably, and regrettably, the biggest catalyst will be the failure of capitalism (a) to produce ‘the goods’ which it promises, for even a small minority (b) to create a physical and non-material environment for the rest which is tolerable enough to contain discontent. But the development and extension, now, of an oppositional eco-socialist line of ideas and actions will help the change and will help to reduce the future casualties of capitalist regimes” (pp 234-5).

We can go along with most of this, though what distinguishes us is that we hold that, whatever trade unions and residents groups might usefully do to mitigate some environmental degradation under capitalism, the role of a socialist organisation is not to itself propose, advocate or campaign for reforms of capitalism but to concentrate exclusively on advocating socialism as the only lasting solution to this and other problems.

From the September 1993 Socialist Standard.

See also this on eco-socialism and other in-depth articles on the environment from the world socialist movement website.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

An Inconvenient Question - Socialism and the Environment

In recent years the environment has become a major political issue. And rightly so, because a serious environmental crisis really does exist. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat have all become contaminated to a greater or lesser extent. Ecology – the branch of biology that studies the relationships of living organisms to their environment – is important, as it is concerned with explaining exactly what has been happening and what is likely to happen if present trends continue.

Since the publication of our Ecology and Socialism pamphlet of 1990 environmental problems facing the planet have got much worse. We said then that attempts to solve those problems within capitalism would meet with failure, and that is precisely what has happened. Recent research on increasing environmental degradation has painted an alarming picture of the likely future if the profit system continues to hold sway. Voices claiming that the proper use of market forces will solve the problem can still be heard, but as time goes on the emerging facts of what is happening serve only to contradict those voices.

In this pamphlet we start with a brief review of the development of Earth and of humankind’s progress on it so far. We then examine the mounting evidence that the planet is now under threat of a worsening, dangerous environment for human and other forms of life. The motor of capitalism is money profit for the minority capitalist class to add to their capital, or capital accumulation. Environmental concerns, if considered at all, always come a poor second. The waste of human and other resources used in the market system is prodigious, adding to the problems and standing in the way of their solution.

Earth Summits over the last few decades show a consistent record of failure – unjustifiably high hopes and pitifully poor results sum them up. The Green Party and other environmental bodies propose reforms of capitalism that haven’t worked or have made very little real difference in the past. Socialists can see no reason why it should be any different in the future. Finally we discuss the need, with respect to the ecology of the planet, for a revolution that is both based on socialist principles of common ownership and production solely for needs, and environmental principles of conserving – not destroying – the wealth and amenities of the planet.

Introduction to "An Inconvenient Question - Socialism and the Environment" an SPGB pamphlet.

The whole pamphlet can be read here or ordered here.

New from Nowhere by William Morris

In 1890 Morris serialised in the Socialist League's newspaper, "Commonweal", a story about a socialist who wakes up one morning into a society established by a socialist revolution. The story, which was subsequently published as a utopian novel called "News From Nowhere", offers a wonderful picture of Morris's vision of a moneyless, wageless, stateless, propertyless society. The word picture made no claim to represent what socialism would have to be like. Much of it reflects Morris's romantic attachment to qualities of medieval England, and not all socialists would go along with these desires for how society could be. What was more important than the contents of Morris's desired society was its role in stimulating its readers to think about a world so differently arranged from the capitalism of the late nineteenth century.

One hundred years later it still strains the imagination of workers; tempting us to think practically about how it might be to live in a socialist society. The visitor to 'Nowhere' goes 'shopping' and attempts to buy a pipe and some tobacco from some children who are looking after a stall. When he offers to pay them for it he is greeted with looks of amused incomprehension. The entire novel, with its refreshing perspective of looking at the conventions of capitalism as if they are eccentricities in a new world, is a useful contribution to the struggle to persuade workers to want more. For until workers know what they could have they will be all too ready to put up with what they have.

William Morris: How we live and how we might live

A review of William Morris' revolutionary vision of a future, moneyless society (from the WSM website).

William Morris was one of the foremost creative artists of the nineteenth century. Designer of furniture and wallpaper, printer, architect, novelist and poet, Morris was respected by the 'respectable' people of Victorian capitalist society. His upbringing was far from one of poverty. He was born in March 1834 into a wealthy capitalist family. He was sent to public school and then to Oxford where his mother wanted him to train for the clergy. At university Morris fell under the spell of Ruskin who criticised the mechanised, economically regimented nature of industrial capitalism.

As time passed the success of William Morris as a celebrated artist clashed more and more with his understanding that society was dominated by the values of money and profit. What passed as civilisation was merely the rule of Property. What was the point of being creative in a world which regarded creations of art as just a few more expensive commodities to be bought and sold? What was the point of producing great art when the mass of humanity was confined to the drudgery of wage slavery, forced to produce what was cheap and nasty for a mass market which paid no recognition to craft, skill and quality? In 1894 Morris described his feelings as he first became a socialist:

"Think of it! Was it all to end in a counting-house on the top of a cinder heap, with Podsnap's drawing-room in the offing, and a Whig committee dealing out champagne to the rich and magarine to the poor in such convenient proportion as would make all men contented together, though the pleasure of the eyes was gone from the world, and the place of Homer was to be taken by Huxley? Yet, believe me, in my heart, when I really forced myself to look towards the future, that is what I saw in it, and, as far as I could tell, scarce anyone seemed to think it worth while to struggle against such a consummation of civilisation. So there I was in a fine pessimistic end of life, if it had not somehow dawned on me that amidst all this filth of civilisation the seeds of great change, what we others call Social-Revolution, were beginning to germinate. The whole face of things was changed to me by that discovery, and all I had to do then in order to become a socialist was to hook myself on to the practical movement… "

The 'practical movement' for socialism which Morris joined was the Social Democratic Federation. This was the first Marxian political organisation in Britain, formed in 1883. Morris was an energetic speaker and writer for the cause of socialism from the moment he joined the movement at nearly fifty until his death in 1896. His two major contributions to the development of socialist thought were, firstly, his rejection of the policy of reformism, and secondly, his clear and simple expression of the outline of what a socialist society could look like.

We do not look back uncritically at what Morris had to say on these two subjects, and where his thinking was unclear or mistaken we shall endeavour to explain why, but we can look back upon Morris as one of the pioneers of a genuine socialist tradition, as distinct from the pseudo-socialism of so many 'socialist stars' who reside in the gallery of left-wing heroes.

Revolution -v- Reform

Socialists have one objective; the transformation of society from the profit system to production for use. There is no socialist programme for running capitalism—it would be like a pacifist policy for running an army. The Social Democratic Federation (SDF) took the absurd view that it could work for the abolition of capitalism while at the same time proposing reforms to improve the capitalist system. These reforms were put forward as so-called Stepping Stones to Socialism. But a socialist system cannot come about gradually as a result of legislative amendments to the profit system.

In December 1884 Morris, together with a number of other socialist revolutionaries (Karl Marx's daughter Eleanor, her husband Edward Aveling, Belfort Bax and several others) resigned from the SDF and formed a new body, the Socialist League, which was free from the advocacy of reforms—or palliatives, as they were then referred to. (It was refusal to be part of a reform-peddling organisation which led the founder members of The Socialist Party to leave the SDF twenty years later.) This was not their only reason for leaving the SDF. The party was also dominated in an undemocratic fashion by the arrogant, public-school educated bully, H.M.Hyndman, who treated the SDF as if it was his own possession. He actually owned the press on which its journal "Justice" was printed and regarded that as grounds for acting in a dictatorial manner as editor. He was also an English nationalist and something of a racist. He ridiculed SDF members who were of Jewish origin and he supported the policy of having a strong British navy. An ardent supporter of the British war effort, he formed a new outfit called the National Socialist Party in 1916!

In his letter of resignation from the SDF, Morris made it clearwhy he could not work within a reformist organisation:

"We believe that to hold out hopes of amelioration of the condition of the workers, to be wrung out of the necessities of the rival factions of our privileged rulers, is delusive and mischievous."

Pleading with one group of capitalists to throw a few more crumbs in the direction of the workers in return for which the workers would give the crumb-throwers their votes, was a policy repeatedly rejected by Morris:

"The palliatives over which many worthy people are busying themselves now are useless because they are but unorganised partial revolts against a vast, wide-spreading, grasping organisation which will, with the unconscious instinct of a plant, meet every attempt at bettering the conditions of the people with an attack on a fresh side. "

This was a far-seeing comment by Morris. We have seen how after all of the reforms obtained by 'worthy' reformers who sought welfare aid for workers, the system simply creates new dimensions of poverty which undermine whatever apparent progress the reformers made. Capitalism as a social system cannot be humanised by reforms; as Morris pointed out in 1886:

"Those who believe that they can deal with capitalism in a piecemeal way very much underrate the strength of the tremendous organisation under which we live… ; it will not suffer itself to be dismembered, nor to lose anything which is its essence…"

In July 1885 the League declared its difference from all other parties by stating that:

"It is a new society that we are working to realise, not a cleaning up of our present tyrannical muddle into an improved, smoothly-working form of that same order…"

Social revolution and nothing less was the aim. The Socialist League had in its day, as the Socialist Party does in ours, to deal with all kinds of diversionary policies for running capitalism in the interest of the working class. Like now, there were those who suggested that the workers should form co-operative businesses and exploit themselves in order to pay the bank interest. Then there were left-wingers who called for the nationalisation of industry, partial or wholesale. Morris and the League rejected these schemes, referring to the 'statist' policies as 'State Socialism'. (The accurate term is 'state capitalism', as we have seen in the case of the nationalised industries in Britain and the state-controlled economies in Russia and China.)

Morris drafted The Manifesto of the Socialist League which was adopted at its July 1885 conference. Its dismissal of reformist policies is worthy of quotation:

"As to mere politics, Absolutism, Constitutionalism, Republicanism have all been tried in our day and under our present social system, and all have alike failed in dealing with the real evils of life. Nor, on the other hand, will certain incomplete schemes of social reform now before the public solve the question. Co-operation so-called—that is, competitive co-operation for profit—would merely increase the number of small joint-stock capitalists, under the mask of creating an aristocracy of labour, while it would intensify the severity of labour by its temptations to overwork.

Nationalisation of the land alone, which many earnest and sincere persons are now preaching, would be useless so long as labour was subject to the fleecing of surplus value inevitable under the Capitalist system. No better solution would be that State Socialism, by whatever name it may be called, whose aim it would be to make concessions to the working class while leaving the present system of capital and wages still in operation. No number of merely administrative changes; until the workers are in possession of all political power, would make any real approach to Socialism. The Socialist League therefore aims at the realisation of complete Revolutionary Socialism and well knows that this can never happen in any one country without the help of the workers of all civilisation. "

Morris agreed with Marx before him that there could be no socialist revolution until a majority of socialists understood and wanted it. His conception of revolution did not belong to the tradition associated with Lenin, who modelled his idea of a revolution on the capitalist coup d'états of the past in which one minority class had grabbed political power from another. In contrast to the undemocratic notions of Blanqui, Lenin and others who imagined that workers would be unconscious pawns in a revolutionary game, Morris was clear in his rejection of:

"… riots carried out by men who do not know what Socialism is, and have no idea what their next step is to be, if, contrary to all calculation, they should happen to be successful. Therefore, at the best our masters would be masters still, because there would be nothing to take their place."

Morris was an opponent of the idea of bringing about socialism by parliamentary means. This opposition needs to be clarified. Firstly, Morris is to be clearly distinguished from those leftists who oppose the use of the ballot box as a means of registering the existence of a socialist majority and think that a socialist majority could never be won; so they want to bring about socialism without a socialist majority. (For example, the leader of the Leninist SWP informs his readers that, "In our times there is not a single issue that can be decided by ballots. In the decisive class battles bullets will prevail." Lenin, vol. 3, p.36.)

As we have shown, Morris was not an advocate of insurrections, riots, gun battles or other tin-soldier plots devised by those who cannot imagine the possibility of there ever being a majority of workers in favour of a socialist revolution. Secondly, Morris's real opposition was to what is sometimes called parliamentarianism—the reformist policy of winning local or national government power and then sitting in office administering capitalism in the name of socialism. Morris believed that for socialists to enter parliament would be an inevitable collaboration with the system as it stands.

The Socialist Party is committed to the use of the ballot box as a means of democratically sending socialist delegates into parliament. Revolutionary socialist delegates will have one single mandate—to abolish capitalism. While there are only a minority of socialist delegates in parliament (assuming that workers in some areas arrive at socialist consciousness before others), it will be their task to use the platform of the parliamentary stage as a means of opposing all policies for running the capitalist system of exploitation, and to speak out for working-class interest—Socialism.

Although Morris tended to think that parliament was an inherently reformist institution, even he stated that:

"I believe that the Socialists will certainly send members to Parliament when they are strong enough to do so; in itself I see no harm in that, so long as it is understood that they go there as rebels, and not as members of the governing body prepared to pass palliative measures to keep Society alive."

Morris's overriding concern was to defend socialist principles from the compromise of reformist politics. You cannot demolish a slum and clean it up at the same time. In the years since Morris's death the workers have been deluded by scores of political slum-cleaners; his pioneering role as an advocate of capitalist demolition was an important contribution to the socialist movement.

A Vision of Somewhere

The working class has not only got too little, but it wants too little. The job of a socialist is to make workers want more; to show that there is an alternative to the way we live now which is not only reasonable but desirable. In outlining the vision of how we could live—as equals in a world of our own—few writers have done better than William Morris in capturing the sense of genuine freedom which socialism will make possible. Morris was not concerned about designing a blueprint for socialism—to say that this or that is how the future must be. No individual, or any minority of socialists, can abrogate to itself the decisions about how to live. These must be determined democratically by the people who make the socialist revolution. What we can do is to offer a glimpse into society as it could become once it is freed from the stranglehold of the money men.

Above all, Morris was concerned in showing how work would be transformed in a socialist society. Under capitalism, what is work? For workers, 'looking for work', 'going to work', 'needing extra work', 'being out of work' has nothing to do with freedom. What most workers call work is in fact employment. It is using their energies under the command of the boss. We are taught from an early age that we must work hard, that we must do as we are told at work, and that if we do not work we will not eat or be able to pay the rent. The price paid for being out of work is abject poverty. The reward given for being employed to work is a wage to keep us working.

The person who becomes rich by hard work is such an exception that he or she is a celebrity. Even then, becoming rich by hard work usually involves getting out of the working class by finding others to work hard for you. Generally speaking, you do not become a millionaire by hard work. It is a strange system in which we live; where those who do not need to ever do a day's work are rich and secure, while the hardest and most useful working people are poor and insecure.

Not only is work under capitalism a path to poverty of varying degrees, but it is occupation which is often boring and over which the worker has little or no control. The product of work under capitalism is the commodity—objects to be sold on the market—and such is the alienation of the profit system that the commodity dominates the commodity-producer.

In a society of common ownership and democratic control of the means of living, humans will have a totally different approach to working. After all, work is the expenditure of our mental and physical energies. It is part of our nature to apply our energies to the world around us. Morris looked at what work could be like within socialism and concluded that:

"Nothing should be made by man's labour which is not worth making; or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers."

Furthermore, in a society of co-operative labour, where work will not be for wages but for the good of the community:

"It is right and necessary that all men should have work to do:

First—Work worth doing;

Second—Work of itself pleasant to do;

Third—Work done under such conditions as would make it neither

over-wearisome nor over-anxious. "

Morris saw that socialism would break down two distinctions which are characteristic of capitalist society.

Firstly, the distinction between work and leisure. It is only in a society where working is a compulsory burden that there is a special time of the day for what is called leisure—it should be more properly called the non-employment period. In this period workers are rather like prisoners allowed to combine socially outside their cells for a few hours a day. In a socialist society work will be part of living. Of course, we will all need to do our bit to make sure that our common home, the world, is kept going. But the types of work we do will vary. We need not be stuck in one job or specialised area of work for life. Working hours will be shorter—possibly only four or five hours a day. After all, under capitalism vast millions of people are employed doing work which is totally pointless from a useful social point of view. They are servants of the buying and selling system. In a socialist society people at work will be freed from the irritation of knowing that what they are doing is only being done to make someone else rich. Work in a socialist society will be free from control by bosses and tin pot foremen. Work will be part of what makes life worthwhile, not a horrible prison occupation to be escaped from as soon as a siren sounds.

Secondly, in a socialist society the distinction between work and art will no longer persist. The regimented labour of the commercial system stifled the art of those who could produce by the skill of their hands. Morris was not suggesting that socialism would mean a retreat to the days of handicraft, but that, in a society of production for use, the pleasure to be obtained in creative and expressive work activities would be encouraged. In a socialist society the producer would be treated as an artist, a creative being.

In 1890 Morris serialised in the Socialist League's newspaper, "Commonweal", a story about a socialist who wakes up one morning into a society established by a socialist revolution. The story, which was subsequently published as a utopian novel called "News From Nowhere", offers a wonderful picture of Morris's vision of a moneyless, wageless, stateless, propertyless society. The word picture made no claim to represent what socialism would have to be like. Much of it reflects Morris's romantic attachment to qualities of medieval England, and not all socialists would go along with these desires for how society could be. What was more important than the contents of Morris's desired society was its role in stimulating its readers to think about a world so differently arranged from the capitalism of the late nineteenth century.

One hundred years later it still strains the imagination of workers; tempting us to think practically about how it might be to live in a socialist society. The visitor to 'Nowhere' goes 'shopping' and attempts to buy a pipe and some tobacco from some children who are looking after a stall. When he offers to pay them for it he is greeted with looks of amused incomprehension. The entire novel, with its refreshing perspective of looking at the conventions of capitalism as if they are eccentricities in a new world, is a useful contribution to the struggle to persuade workers to want more. For until workers know what they could have they will be all too ready to put up with what they have.

Monday, 1 March 2010

The Road to Socialism - Kropotkin, Morris and Marx

This has every chance of being a cracking public forum where Brian Morris ("Kropotkin: The Politics Of Community" and "Bakunin: The Philosophy Of Freedom") and Adam Buick ("Marxian Economics and Globalization" and "State Capitalism: The Wages System under New Management") discuss the contributions of these three great thinkers to the socialist movement.

Thanks to Alan Johnstone of Mailstrom for pointing out these two related articles by Adam Buick:

What Marx Should Have Said To Kropotkin

William Morris - A Revolutionary Socialist