Voice From the Back

When we say that socialism is a society where everybody will work to the best of their ability and take according to their needs – a society without ownership, wages or prices – we are taken to task for our naivety. What about human nature we are asked? We have always explained our position with illustrations from history, but it is unlikely that we could improve on this argument advanced by the writer George Orwell nearly 70 years ago. “The proper answer, it seems to me, is that this argument belongs to the Stone Age. It presupposes that material goods will always be desperately scarce…but there is no reason for thinking that the greed for mere wealth is a permanent human characteristic. We are selfish in economic matters because we all live in terror of poverty but when a commodity is not scarce, no one tries to grab more than his fair share of it. No one tries to make a corner in air, for instance. The millionaire as well as the beggar is content with just so much air as he can breathe.” (Tribune, 21 July 1944.)  Inside a socialist society where we can produce an abundance of food clothing and shelter the notion of human nature will indeed seem like something out of the Stone Age.  

You don’t often hear of university professors praising Marx or a business journal reporting it, but we must give credit where credit is due. “Economist Nouriel “Dr. Doom” Roubini, the New York University professor who four years ago accurately predicted the global financial crisis, said one of economist, Karl Marx’s critiques of capitalism is playing itself out in the current global financial crisis. …”Karl Marx had it right,” Roubini said in an interview with wsj.com. “At some point capitalism can self-destroy itself. That’s because you can not keep on shifting income from labor to capital without not having an excess capacity and a lack of aggregate demand. We thought that markets work. They are not working.” (International Business Times, 13 August.) Being a university economic professor he couldn’t get it all correct of course. Marx never claimed that capitalism would “self-destroy itself”. That destruction can only come about by the action of the working class.

The conflict in Libya has proved to be very profitable for the British oil firm Vitol which has supplied fuel and associated products to the rebels and traded oil on their behalf. The deal is estimated to be worth about $1 billion. “The deal with Vitol was said to have been masterminded by Alan Duncan, the former oil trader turned junior minister, who has close business links to the oil firm and was previously a director of one of its subsidiaries. Mr Duncan’s private office received funding from the head of Vitol before the general election. Ian Taylor, the company’s chief executive and a friend of Mr Duncan, has given more than £200,000 to the Conservatives. Vitol is thought to be the only oil firm to have traded with the rebels during the Libyan conflict. Oil industry sources said that other firms including BP, Shell and Glencore had not been approached over the deal. One well-placed source said this was “very surprising” because other companies would have been keen to be involved.” (Daily Telegraph, 1 September) The other firms are unhappy with the deal and questions are likely to be raised in parliament. Enquiries are likely to be about how political donors were given the business, but no one will query the accepted fact that war and military conflict is an excellent business opportunity.

Legislation by the government to allow house building on previously designated green areas has aroused opposition, but the background to the proposals is likely to cause even more resentment. “Dozens of property firms have given a total of £3.3 million to the party over the past three years, including large gifts from companies seeking to develop rural land. Developers are also paying thousands of pounds for access to senior Tories through the Conservative Property Forum, a club of elite donors which sets up breakfast meetings to discuss planning and property issues. The disclosures are likely to provoke a new “cash-for-access” row and will give rise to fears that planning policies could have been influenced by powerful figures from the property industry.” (Daily Telegraph, 10 September) The newspaper’s fears about “powerful figures” influencing the government seem somewhat naive. The whole purpose of legislation inside capitalism is to accommodate the wishes of the owning class.

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