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A dynamic guide to the future

A World to Win shows how capitalism has already developed many of the basic features of a fully-integrated system of production and distribution. A new democratic society serving the needs of the majority would ensure that the benefits of this production were made available to all

By Peter Arkell

Ask a university historian to identify our epoch or to map out the directions that history can take, and you will most likely get a lot of pessimistic words about the dangers of the present period and the uncertainties ahead. You are very unlikely to get any sense of the development of history or how it is that the world has arrived at a point where the richest 500 people have more money than the annual earnings of the poorest 3 billion; and a point in history where the rulers of two countries can make an illegal and unpopular war, killing tens of thousands of civilians, and still stay in power.

And you are not likely either to get an admission from your paid historian that the economy and the social system built upon it might be unstable or even completely out of control. A World to Win* takes up all these questions (including the one about why the “most brilliant minds” in the universe do not have the answers). It does so not with old platitudes and formulas, but by undertaking an examination of what is new, what has developed out of the old and where this leaves humanity compared to 20, 50 or 100 years ago.

The first part of the book lays bare the inner workings of globalisation by seeing where it comes from. It traces the changing role of the state as capitalism has developed, its regulatory role, its trappings of democracy, its posture of neutrality and so on. With the globalisation of the world economy and the production of commodities, so the role of the state has, inevitably, been transformed again. The transnational corporations (TNCs) and global banks become the real power in the world and the state becomes the instrument for this to take place effectively and efficiently.

Parliament becomes increasingly irrelevant and powerless, the prime minister and a few others become more and more like presidents or managing directors (CEOs as we must call them now). And the old welfare state is transformed into a market state, one of many in the world that now serve the interests of the TNCs and no longer, unless they coincide, the interests of the nation’s capitalists. Education, health, culture, music, just about everything is broken up, turned into commodities and sold off. Science is increasingly tied to the interests of business and nature itself becomes a set of resources for turning a profit with no regard for the future of life on earth.

As the book puts it:

“Now, in the 21st century, we have democracy as a shell with parliaments that are of more significance to tourists than working people…” Globalisation means that the old arrangement of political compromises between employers and working people, which is really what parliament represents, can no longer work, and “the long period of parliamentary politics is giving way to a new, authoritarian rule”.

The book goes on:

“Globalised capital is not in the business of making concessions or promoting reforms. The forces of production and finance transcend borders and this is sufficient to undermine nationally-based reformist policies and programmes. This process has produced New Labour as the unashamed champions of the free-market economy… The state, even if it wanted to, cannot contain or dictate to the corporations. It is also patently incapable of getting to grips with the growing ecological issues.”

The authors show how the masses have been effectively disenfranchised and the state, under New Labour in Britain, as it gets tied ever closer to the TNCs, loses the possibility for reforming anything. Instead, the state resorts to the war on terror to bolster its rule, “knowing that this kind of conflict against an abstract phenomenon can never be said to have ended”.

They go on to examine a fundamental contradiction thrown up by the growth of the globalised economy. While the state has given up economic and political powers to various unelected global bodies (such as the World Trade Organisation), it has strengthened its powers to oppress people at home and abroad. The nation state remains the only route by which the TNCs can get what they want and in so doing it becomes exposed in the eyes of millions of people, losing much of its legitimacy and authority. A very great weakness and contradiction indeed.

And just in case anyone thinks that the globalised economy might be outside the laws of capitalist development, the authors give us a deft but accurate summary of Marx’s labour theory of value to reveal what is and always has been the driving force behind the production of commodities for profit. The imperatives of capitalist accumulation and expansion and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall are bound to lead to fierce competition to defend profits, to reduce the cost of production especially that of labour, and to over-production.

This very lucid examination complete, the authors move on from understanding the world to the question of changing it — what needs to be done, what can be done and how. And it is Parts 2 and 3 of the book, looking at how a not-for-profit society could be run and how a revolutionary change is necessary and natural, that really distinguish this work. Unlike so many analysts, who have no answers apart from putting pressure on the our rulers to mend their ways, or who leave their readers completely in the dark to fend for themselves, Paul Feldman and Corinna Lotz put forward ideas and policies drawn from existing economic, social and political conditions.

They start out from what capitalism has already developed down the years and from the possibility of liberating human achievement from the straitjacket of capitalist social relations. This is not only necessary but possible. Yes, possible. “The means are already to hand, as we will show. The great achievements in terms of science, technology and human organisational skills… remain beyond conscious human control because they are owned privately, dependent on capital and its narrow objectives before they are brought into use.

“Alternative forms of ownership and work on a not-for-profit basis already exist within capitalism. Yet they are marginalised and isolated forms that stand no chance of becoming the dominant form within the existing order of things. They are all subject to the overwhelming pressures of market forces and the demands of capitalist states and governments.”

They add:

“...despite its appearance of permanence which it tries to reinforce whenever and wherever it can, capitalism is a relatively small blip on the timescale of 12,000 years of social history. It grew within feudalism and emerged through social and political revolution and the violence of the industrial revolution. History demands that the system of private ownership itself is transcended in order to liberate the potential that it contains — and to halt the ecological destruction that actually threatens life itself. This force in the shape of human aspiration is knocking at the gates…”

The power of capitalism and its state is not quite what it seems to the the thinker who only goes on subjective impressions of the world. The policies of the capitalist states, determined now largely by the global corporations, meet resistance world-wide, whether it is a protest against the Iraq War, a struggle against water privatisation in Ghana, opposition to GM food, a strike against job losses or whatever. The NHS, one of the largest employers in the world, is living proof that the profit motive is not a necessary feature for providing health-care, and most people who work in the NHS are opposed to New Labour’s plans to privatise it bit by bit. Half of all shares in the UK, about £650 billion worth, are owned by pension funds or insurance companies investing the money, nominally at least, for people’s retirement.

There are 150,000 charities in the UK that collect and spend several billions of pounds each year. There are co-operatives of all types all over the world, employee-owned companies, mutuals, credit unions, all functioning without shareholders and without the pressure to make profits. And there is open source computer software like Linux that is collectively owned and available for anyone who wants it.

The authors point out that capitalism has already developed many of the basic features of a fully-integrated system of production and distribution — and a new democratic society serving the needs of the majority would ensure that the benefits of this production were made available to all. In the chapter Transforming the Economy, surprisingly detailed strategies and policies are proposed. A set of principles as a way of acting globally by starting locally is put forward. How to identify and set priorities for need is outlined along with actionable first steps. These proposals include the use of the above-mentioned pension funds to develop self-managed and collectively-owned enterprises.

There are sections on switching to production for need, one on self-management and on redefining the market. The authors insist: “Production for need based on planning is possible, but it cannot and should not completely replace the expression of consumer preference through the market.” And a conscious or “thinking” market is put forward as a possibility, using sophisticated modern technology to ensure that production and distribution is responsive to individual wants within the limits of possibility agreed collectively. The authors follow this up with an imaginary interview about the way in which the health services have been transformed after the power of the global corporations has been broken. This again emphasises the possibilities for health-care and for research into diseases in a not-for profit environment, globally. It is a fictitious scenario, but convincing and, yes, possible.

The last part of the book, titled A revolutionary change is necessary, takes up the question of ideology and the importance of challenging the all-pervasive ideas of corporate globalisation, much of which, the authors point out, is straight lying (as with the Iraq war and some advertising), and all of which reinforces the individualism and isolation of human beings one from another. It is inconceivable that a serious challenge to the capitalist class can be mounted without developing a “flexible and unprejudiced theory of knowledge that grasps inter-connections and complex processes”, the authors argue. In a rapidly changing world, this is the decisive issue when it comes to planning revolutionary change.

There follows an intelligible, in fact, a virtuoso exposition of materialist dialectics, with examples from the world of today, of how a dialectical approach can lead to a deepening of thought and understanding when analysing a phenomenon or an event. The aim is to arrive ever closer in thought to the movement, development and change in the objective world beyond thought. There is no magic in this, but it does involve a conscious effort to grasp the difference between the lazy prevalent thinking that tends to jump to conclusions and to impose pre-determined views onto new situations, and dialectical thought that can draw conclusions from the continuous changing world.

The entire argument of the book is that no serious change in society is possible outside the struggle for political and economic power, for which a revolutionary party is needed, whose aim is to organise and lead this change. Such a party is discussed in some detail in the book, how it can be built, how it functions, how it intervenes, the importance of democratic discussion within the party and the requirements of the party for training and educating its members, for research, developing policies, communications, monitoring progress and for holding the leadership accountable.

And here, too, lessons can even be learned from the latest management techniques within capitalism. These techniques, where management encourages their workforces to see the company as theirs and to participate in decision-making processes, although designed in the final analysis to increase profits, do hold lessons for the building of a party. Working in an open collective way helps to locate and confront the tendencies of bureaucracy and conservatism that you get in any organisation.

A World to Win is a real eye-opener for anybody who wants to see and learn. It re-makes the case for the social transformation of society, and, far from just dismissing capitalism and its latest stage, globalisation, as just a kind of plague on mankind, it seeks to understand its development, to identify the positive aspects that have developed within it, in order the better to be able to facilitate the transfer of power and the birth of a new social order.

A great merit of the book is its refreshing non-dogmatic, non-sectarian approach. And because the authors have such a deep comprehension of the issues, they are able to write lucidly, making complex processes and thoughts, intelligible and accessible to all. Through the pages of the book, they employ the use of boxes with interesting facts, statistics, stories, quotes and graphs as a counterpoint to reinforce the main argument and this turns out to be a brilliant device. And they have sections on the Internet, the music industry and culture in general to make this an inclusive and comprehensive critique of the society in which we live, and of the possibilities for the future.

There is enormous distrust of global corporations, of governments and of politicians within society as a whole and people are profoundly disturbed by the apparent contempt that our rulers show for the poor of the world and for the planet itself. The contradictions that are piling up under globalisation are dividing the ruling classes, making them weaker and unsure of themselves. While the appearance might be that the working classes are quiet and docile, the history of this country, with the Peasants Revolt, the English revolution, Chartism and the building of the Labour Party, the 1926 General Strike and the 1984-5 miners’ strike tells us that they will not remain so.

A World to Win: a rough guide to a future without global capitalism. By Paul Feldman and Corinna Lotz. Lupus Books 2004, £9.99

This article was first published in Socialist Future Review Spring 2005

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