Are property rights essential to prosperity and liberty? The ‘No’ case.

This is a presentation by socialist economist David McMullen at a Melbourne Argument debate at the Royal Oak Hotel, North Fitzroy, Melbourne, on February 8, 2017. His opponent was Ted Lapkin, a former adviser in the Abbott government.

Private Property Rights are Essential not only to Economic Prosperity but to Political Liberty – The No Case

February 12, 2017 via Different Wavelength

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When looking at economic prosperity and political liberty, the private property rights we are concerned about are the ownership rights of the capitalist class over the means of production or productive assets. We are not arguing about private property rights over items of consumption. So I acknowledge everyone’s right to their own toothbrush.

What I want to contend is that in the future we will get by very nicely without private ownership of the means of production. We will do this by creating a class free society where the means of production are socially rather than privately owned. This will free the economy of the many shackles placed on it by capitalism and at the same time create a society that requires the fullest political freedom for its proper functioning.This future system is generally referred to as communism.

OK why do I take this singularly unpopular position which everyone knows has been totally discredited? Well, I subscribe to the Marxist view that capitalism creates the conditions for this new more advanced system.In a nutshell, capitalism eliminates the need for the profit motive and hence the need for its own existence. It does this through the creation of modern industry and technology which open up the prospect of universal prosperity, and of robots and computers doing all the work that we really don’t want to do. Under these new conditions we can begin to imagine people working because they like what they are doing and they want to contribute, while at the same time being happy with an equal share of an increasing level of prosperity. In other words we can see social ownership having a totally different and better form of motivation than the profit motive that is associated with private ownership.

This means that what was previously impossible becomes possible.Past history already tells us that sharing poverty and laborious work is impossible. You cannot create equality under those conditions. It is a utopian dream. For example, as the Middle Ages illustrate it only requires a small band of thugs who would prefer to live off everybody else’s hard work and you end up with a very nasty class society. Also when assessing the experience of the Soviet Union, and the various regimes derived from it, it is important to keep in mind their backward economic conditions as a factor in determining how things turned out there.

Now, favorable economic conditions presently only exist in the rich countries where less than 20 per cent of the world’s people reside. What about the rest of the world? It looks like it is going to take a number of generations for them to develop. It is hard to be any more definite than that. However, I would suggest that the prospects are best if there is a healthy global economy and a willingness to provide well directed economic aid and also to offer diplomatic and military assistance to those resisting the forces of tyranny and corruption.

Anyway, why do I consider that social ownership will bring greater economic prosperity and progress? There are five reasons that strike me as being particularly important.

  1. Firstly capitalist firms cannot match the work performance that would be achieved where workers unprompted want to do the job to the best of their ability.Capitalist firms have to apply various rewards and penalties to get their employees to do their bidding. However, if a job is in any way complex it becomes difficult to correctly assess how well people are doing their job. And jobs are becoming increasingly complex so this is becoming more and more of a problem.
  2. Secondly once we get rid of private ownership and private debt we will also get rid of economic crises, stock market crashes, bank collapses and extended periods of depressions or recessions that lead to unemployment and reduced production.
  3. Thirdly we will get rid of the waste of human labor that Marx called pauperization where a large number of people are thrown on the scrap heap and survive on welfare. They are not equipped to develop work skills or they are psychologically maimed from living in this society.
  4. Fourthly, we will not have capitalism’s sluggishness in terms of what are arguably the main drivers of economic progress, namely,science, research and development, and technological innovation. There are a number of reasons for capitalism’s lack of vigor in this area. If I can beg your indulgence I will list six that I am aware of. Firstly, capitalists are not interested in major technological breakthroughs that will make their present investments less valuable or even obsolete. They just want incremental improvements that increase their value. Secondly, benefits from spending on R&D are long term but capitalists tend to have a short term perspective. Thirdly because of the public good nature of new knowledge, firms cannot capture all the benefits and so underspend on it. Fourthly, where intellectual property right laws are applied, access to knowledge is restricted. Fifthly, government funding for R&D is the first thing to go when there are government budget cuts. And also there is huge wastage as researchers game the funding system and personal prestige and career take precedence over outcomes. And sixthly, capitalism generates an anti-technology and anti-science attitude among the alienated masses. People see the modern industry created by capitalism as the problem rather than capitalism itself. We have people whose livelihood is threatened by new technologies. And there are the greenies who have a romantic view of the pre-industrial past.
  5. Now the last but by no means least on my list of capitalism’s economic problems that will be overcome under communism is what economists like to call government failure.Capitalism tolerates a lot of bureaucracy and regulation.Much of it is devoted to catering to the needs of vested interests in ways that harm the economy. Vested interest is just another term for private property. And as well as this there is of course empire building by career minded bureaucrats.

OK those are my arguments for why I think that private ownership of the means of production is a fetter on the economy. Now I want to address what I think are the two main arguments against what I’ve been saying. Firstly, we are told that social ownership would require excessive centralization and secondly that you can’t change human nature.

Economists argue that all this well-intentioned motivation would come to very little because an economy based on social ownership has an inherent economic calculation problem: in the absence of market transactions between enterprises it could not have a properly functioning price system. And as a consequence social ownership would require clumsy centralized resource allocation of the kind that existed in the Soviet Union. I am not going to speculate on how economic decisions will be made in the future under communism. However, we can say that there is nothing about the non-market transfers of custody over components from producer to user enterprises that would prevent them from making decentralized decisions based on prices. Furthermore, we could hardly do a worse job of allocating investment funds than do highly fluctuating interest rates and exchange rates produced by capitalist finance. Indeed, there are good reasons for thinking that economic decision-making would be far superior to that under capitalism. To begin with, because of the absence of ownership barriers, there would be far more scope for coordination, and less scope for secrecy and deception.

Human nature and mutual regard

Now what about human nature? A society based on social ownership requires far more than simply state ownership, although that is a prerequisite. There need to fundamental changes in people’s behavior and abilities.

The behavior change can be best summed up in the expression ‘mutual regard’.You do the right thing because you want to contribute and you know that your efforts are not futile because a large and increasing section of society is doing likewise. As well as being the basis of morality and what is considered honorable it is also enlightened self-interest. By everybody serving others we are all served. This altruism is not the self-denial that Ayn Rand made it out to be.

Many would doubt the ability of rank and file workers to do the complex kinds of work required in the future. However, I would suggest that people have greatly untapped potential. There are many ways that they are presently held back or find themselves unchallenged.

The kinds of changes we are talking about here will not happen overnight. There will have to be a transition period that will take a generation or more and is generally referred to as socialism. It will take time to totally eliminate private ownership, starting with the big fish, and it will take time to move completely away from the old capitalist work incentives. And it won’t be smooth sailing. Good behavior will only win out once the good majority gain the confidence and moral courage to stand up to those who behave badly. And there will be lots of old management types trying to run things in the old way and convincing workers that the new ways are futile. So it will be touch and go for a while and we may need more than one stab at it.

Now let’s look at political liberty

With the emergence of capitalism we have seen for the first time a degree of political liberty. We have constitutions limiting the power of government, we have elections, the separation of powers, habeas corpus. These would have been unimaginable in the Middle Ages or in any other pre-capitalist society.

The main problem however is that the capitalist system tends to abandon political liberty in times of crisis. Also a big test of political freedom is our freedom to confiscate the means of production from the capitalists and convert them into social property. In the face of a serious revolutionary movement one would expect to see states of emergency, unofficial death squads, and well-resourced propaganda campaigns spreading fascism and xenophobia.

Historical accidents

What conclusions should we draw about the lack of democracy in the so-called communist bloc countries? The Soviet Union etc? The first thing to note is that we dealing with an historical accident. By virtue of some rather specific or contingent circumstances,communists found themselves in charge in countries that with few exceptions were economically and socially backward, and totally unsuited to undertaking a communist revolution. Also, the regimes did not arise as a result of popular support for communism. In the revolutions in the Soviet Union and China the primary concern of the peasant masses was nothing more than land reform. In Eastern Europe the regimes were due to the arrival of the Soviet Red Army at the end of WWII rather than popular revolutions. So I think it is safe to say that these regimes would not have survived if they had been democratic.

However, it is important to keep in mind the alternative in most cases was right-wing tyranny rather than democracy. And of course these regimes eventually lost the minimal revolutionary content they may have originally had.So their authoritarian nature could no longer be blamed on communists. Instead we just had phonies like Vladimir Putin who pretended to be communists until the collapse of the Soviet Union and we presently have people like Xi Jinping in China who still pretend to be communists. The take-home message here is that the conditions were very different from what we would expect in the future when revolutionary regimes come to power in highly developed societies on the back of widespread support for their political program.

Freedom of speech

Now, the economist Milton Friedman famously argued that freedom of speech and the emergence of diverse political groups require the decentralization of resource ownership that only capitalism can deliver.He argued that under capitalism you have the possibility of finding a rich patron. Marx and Frederick Engels and the Bolsheviks received money from anonymous benefactors as well as from robbing banks. Under social ownership, however, resources would be centralized in the hands of the very authorities that you may want to criticize. However, I would argue that with everyone having very high disposable incomes and access to the Internet you would not have to rely on central authorities providing resources. Also I do not see any insurmountable obstacles to ensuring open access for various resources needed for a vibrant political life.

I do not want to paint too rosy a picture.A revolutionary government during its initial phase may have to declare a state of emergency if there is a rebellion by supporters of the old order. Their rebellion could take the form of civil war, terrorism and sabotage, and dealing with it will not be easy. At the same time, for success, we will need the freedom to criticize those in positions of authority when they display incompetence or lack of revolutionary politics. Bottom up supervision will be a critical part of the system. Indeed, a social system that relies on people taking the initiative without external prompting, could not function if people are not able to say what they think is wrong and what they think should be done about it.

Summing up

I will now make two points to briefly sum up.

Firstly, capitalism creates the very economic conditions required for a more advanced classless society that will be based on social ownership of the means of production.

Secondly, a primary task for the present period is ensuring economic and political progress in the more backward regions of the world. For this we need a liberal global economic order, well directed economic aid, and diplomatic and military support in fighting the battle for democracy. And critical to this is beating back the nationalist anti-globalist wind that is blowing at the moment.

 

The battle for democracy

David McMullen wrote a very good post last month at his new site, Different Wavelength, and has given me permission to republish it below.

Among the best sites for keeping tabs on democratic progress or otherwise are:

Freedom House

Human Rights Watch

Reporters without borders

Amnesty International

Electronic Frontiers

Transparency International

(Let me know of any that should be added to the list!)

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We have had quite a bit of progress on the democratic front in recent decades although there are still some very big and serious challenges.

Let us look first at the progress. Latin America is no longer run by military dictators and they are becoming the exception in sub-Saharan Africa. Then of course there is eastern Europe where most countries are now democracies.

However, the picture is still pretty grim when we consider the continuing extent of tyranny.

In Russia, democracy is more formality than substance and most the other states of the former Soviet Union are rather dodgy or downright nasty.

China is a police state. Dissidents are jailed. The Internet as we know it does not exist. Lots of western news sites are blocked. There is no Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. And they employ an army of censors taking down anything taboo. And by the way, North Korea only exists because of Chinese support.

Then we have the Middle East. It has more than its fair share of tyrannies and authoritarian governments. At the risk of seeming perverse, I would suggest that the present civil war in Syria could indeed be a bright spot on the democratic front. This will depend on the Western powers recognizing that their inevitable intervention can only end the civil war if it brings democracy.

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Marx Supported Capitalist Globalization

Even the most rabid anti-communists acknowledge that Karl Marx got it right in his understanding and prediction of ‘globalization’, how the economies of the world would industrialise and become increasingly integrated.

 

proletarians-walter-crane

 

“All that is solid melts into air” applies to the nation state as much as to the old feudal system that was overturned by the revolutionary bourgeoisie. Then, as now, reactionaries fought hard to keep things ‘solid’ but leftists welcome the globalizing changes that bring human beings closer together through amazing technological advances in transport and telecommunications.

There is an Index that follows the patterns of globalisation in our time: DHL Global Connectedness Index.

David McMullen has just added a new article to the Communist Manifesto Project that shows how Marx supported globalisation. Thanks to David for permission to republish it here.

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Today’s “Marxists” share with the rest of the pseudo left an opposition to capitalist, indeed any, globalization. This puts them totally at odds with Marx. The following quote from The Communist Manifesto leaves no doubt about Marx’s pro position:

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

Then in a letter to Engels of October 8 1858 he wrote:

The proper task of bourgeois society is the creation of the world market, at least in outline, and of the production based on that market. Since the world is round, the colonisation of California and Australia and the opening up of China and Japan would seem to have completed this process.

In his other writings, Marx supported Europe’s colonial conquests, the “process” that got globalization going. In his view Europe was the only source of capitalism which in turn was the necessary precursor of communism. Support for this historical necessity did not prevent him from expressing his disgust at the barbarity and hypocrisy of the Europeans as they went about this conquest nor was he impressed with the tardy pace at which the old societies were being replaced by the new. What he was doing was recognizing that capitalism has a dialectical or contradictory nature. Only capitalism can create the conditions for its own demise. You have to support it in order to oppose it. In “The British Rule in India” New York Daily News of June 25, 1853, he wrote:

These small stereotype forms of social organism [autonomous villages] have been to the greater part dissolved, and are disappearing, not so much through the brutal interference of the British tax-gatherer and the British soldier, as to the working of English steam and English free trade. Those family-communities were based on domestic industry, in that peculiar combination of hand-weaving, hands-spinning and hand-tilling agriculture which gave them self-supporting power. English interference having placed the spinner in Lancashire and the weaver in Bengal, or sweeping away both Hindoo spinner and weaver, dissolved these small semi-barbarian, semi-civilized communities, by blowing up their economical basis, and thus produced the greatest, and to speak the truth, the only social revolution ever heard of in Asia.

Now, sickening as it must be to human feeling to witness those myriads of industrious patriarchal and inoffensive social organizations disorganized and dissolved into their units, thrown into a sea of woes, and their individual members losing at the same time their ancient form of civilization, and their hereditary means of subsistence, we must not forget that these idyllic village-communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath traditional rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies. We must not forget the barbarian egotism which, concentrating on some miserable patch of land, had quietly witnessed the ruin of empires, the perpetration of unspeakable cruelties, the massacre of the population of large towns, with no other consideration bestowed upon them than on natural events, itself the helpless prey of any aggressor who deigned to notice it at all. We must not forget that this undignified, stagnatory, and vegetative life, that this passive sort of existence evoked on the other part, in contradistinction, wild, aimless, unbounded forces of destruction and rendered murder itself a religious rite in Hindostan. We must not forget that these little communities were contaminated by distinctions of caste and by slavery, that they subjugated man to external circumstances instead of elevating man the sovereign of circumstances, that they transformed a self-developing social state into never changing natural destiny, and thus brought about a brutalizing worship of nature, exhibiting its degradation in the fact that man, the sovereign of nature, fell down on his knees in adoration of Kanuman, the monkey, and Sabbala, the cow.

England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.

In “The Future Results of British Rule in India” New York Daily News of August 8, 1853, he wrote:

England has to fulfill a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating – the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundation of Western society in Asia.

He expressed a similar view when writing about Britain’s beastly treatment of China. So that in “Revolution in China and In Europe”, New York Daily News, June 14, 1853 we read:

It is almost needless to observe that, in the same measure in which opium has obtained the sovereignty over the Chinese, the Emperor and his staff of pedantic mandarins have become dispossessed of their own sovereignty. It would seem as though history had first to make this whole people drunk before it could rouse them out of their hereditary stupidity.

and then:

All these dissolving agencies acting together on the finances, the morals, the industry, and political structure of China, received their full development under the English cannon in 1840, which broke down the authority of the Emperor, and forced the Celestial Empire into contact with the terrestrial world. Complete isolation was the prime condition of the preservation of Old China. That isolation having come to a violent end by the medium of England, dissolution must follow as surely as that of any mummy carefully preserved in a hermetically sealed coffin, whenever it is brought into contact with the open air.

In an article published in the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung No. 7, January 23, 1848, Engels expressed his delight at America’s victory in the war with Mexico and the conquest of California, Texas and areas in between. In their footnotes the editors at Progress Press in Moscow try to make out that both Engels and Marx later took a different view. They cite an 1861 article by Marx called “The Civil War in North America”. Here Marx mentions how expansionism at the time was driven by the slave owners. Although he makes no actual mention of the Mexican-American War. In hindsight we can see that one good thing about the annexations was that they contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War which the slave-owners went on to lose. Their attempt to spread slavery to the new territories was the last straw. And we can now say without fear of contradiction that capitalist development greatly benefited from the switch in sovereignty. Here is a link to the 1861 article. It is no use on the Mexican-American War but it is a very illuminating exposition of the expansionist threat posed by the slave states and a very good argument against British “neutrality”.

Marx was quite unsupportive of rebellions by reactionary or backward elements in colonial societies. These included the Taiping Rebellion in China and the Indian Mutiny.

In “Chinese Affairs” Die Presse, No. 185, July 7, 1862, Marx has nothing positive to say about the Taiping Rebellion that rocked southern China from 1850 to 1864

They have no slogans. They are an even greater abomination for the masses of the people than for the old rulers. They seem to have no other vocation than, as opposed to conservative stagnation, to produce destruction in grotesquely detestable forms, destruction without any nucleus of new construction.

“Marxists” have tried to tell a different tale. Over at The Marx and Engels Internet Archive they have a section entitled Articles on China 1853 – 1860. It has other articles that deal with rebellion but not the Die Presse article for copyright reasons. In their introduction they paint the Taiping in glowing colors:

At the same time, the Taiping rebellion broke out in 1850 and attacked the status quo Confucianist Manchu Dynasty — which had ruled since 1644. The rebellion was based in social revolutionary ideas of equality and was popular among the masses. It abolished private property, established sexual equality, and banned drugs (from alcohol to opium). By 1853, it dominated much of SE China. It would not be until 1864 that the Taiping capital of Nanking was captured by the imperial Manchu government.

Progress Press also have this rather gratuitous footnote in Volume I of Capital:

In 1850-64, China was swept by an anti-feudal liberation movement in the form of a large-scale peasant war, the Taiping Revolt.

The fairly uncontroversial Wikipedia entry on the Taiping Rebellion gives a far less flattering picture.

There is also an attempt to paint the Indian Mutiny as a national liberation movement. The Soviet Foreign Languages Publishing House in 1959 brought out a collection of articles by Marx on the Indian Mutiny entitled The First Indian War of Independence, 1857-1859. Also the The Marx and Engels Internet Archive has a web page entitled The First Indian War of Independence (1857-1858)
Marx does not explicitly repudiate the Mutiny in the way that he did in the case of the Taiping Rebellion. However, the total absence of any explicit statement of support is just as telling. He is very concerned to expose British military incompetence and brutality. He is also pleased by the financial and political strain it is placing on Britain. But that is as far as it goes. It is hard to imagine him supporting a pack of princes who wanted to reinstate the Mogul empire after what we know about his view on the role of the British in India.

The editors of Progress Press were also embarrassed by an article by Engels called “French Rule in Algeria” (The Northern Star January 22 1848). Here he wrote:

Upon the whole it is, in our opinion, very fortunate that the Arabian chief has been taken. The struggle of the Bedouins was a hopeless one, and though the manner in which brutal soldiers, like Bugeaud, have carried on the war is highly blameable, the conquest of Algeria is an important and fortunate fact for the progress of civilisation. The piracies of the Barbaresque states, never interfered with by the English government as long as they did not disturb their ships, could not be put down but by the conquest of one of these states. And the conquest of Algeria has already forced the Beys of Tunis and Tripoli, and even the Emperor of Morocco, to enter upon the road of civilisation. They were obliged to find other employment for their people than piracy, and other means of filling their exchequer than tributes paid to them by the smaller states of Europe. And if we may regret that the liberty of the Bedouins of the desert has been destroyed, we must not forget that these same Bedouins were a nation of robbers,—whose principal means of living consisted of making excursions either upon each other, or upon the settled villagers, taking what they found, slaughtering all those who resisted, and selling the remaining prisoners as slaves. All these nations of free barbarians look very proud, noble and glorious at a distance, but only come near them and you will find that they, as well as the more civilised nations, are ruled by the lust of gain, and only employ ruder and more cruel means. And after all, the modern bourgeois, with civilisation, industry, order, and at least relative enlightenment following him, is preferable to the feudal lord or to the marauding robber, with the barbarian state of society to which they belong.

Progress Press in its footnotes refers to this resistance as a liberation struggle. They also then claim that in an 1844 article Engels had made commendable noises about the resistance and that an article “Algeria” written for the New American Encyclopaedia in 1857 reverses the position expressed in the 1848 article. There is nothing in either article that can be construed in this way. An editor’s footnote to the latter article claims that the relevant material was left out by the encylcopaedia editors and this is conformed by a letter from Engels to Marx on 22 September 1857. The letter shows nothing of the sort. The reader is invited to read those three pieces to make up their own mind.

These views of Marx are not at odds with support by communists for the 20th century anti-colonial movement. By that stage the movement was primarily lead by western educated elements who sought to modernize their countries rather than take them backwards. Although there were some oddities such as Mahatma Gandhi, and independence brought many monsters like Idi Amin in Uganda and Mobutu in Zaire, and the whole process was badly affected by the Cold War.

Marx was no green

The Communist Manifesto Project has just published an article titled ‘Was Marx a green?‘ I’m republishing it below, with gratitude to the writer David McMullen.

In reading a draft of the piece, these thoughts came to mind:

In Mao’s critique of Stalin’s Economic Problems in the USSR Mao says Stalin is wrong to believe that human development is restricted by natural laws. Mao asserts that humans can work out ways to overcome these laws:

(Stalin) 2. Leaving aside astronomical, geological, and othersimilar processes, which man really is powerless to influence, even if he has come to know the laws of their development. . . . (Mao response) 2. This argument is wrong. Human knowledge and the capability to transform nature have no limit. Stalin did not consider these matters developmentally. What cannot now be done, may be done in the future.

To me, this kind of thinking – this spirit – was what attracted me to Maoists in the Left in Melbourne back in the late 1960s. They were the ones drawing critically from previous socialist experience, rather than rejecting it out of hand, and they were the ones really placing human conscious activity centre-stage and understanding the inter-relationship between economic base and cultural superstructure.

Marxists have always wanted progress and revolution and Karl Marx supported capital ‘p’ Progress in his time ­ but those who try to reinvent him as a green steady­-statist reverse his progressive and revolutionary nature and turn him into his opposite.

­As for the town and country divide, Engels nails the distinction between those greens (or ‘utopians’, in his time) who value small-scale craft-based life over the advances brought about by the C19th Industrial Revolution, despite its immediate grimness. In the Introduction to The Condition of the working class in England (1845) he talks about the much healthier, more humane, way of life in feudal rural England but says, no!, it sucks because in such a pre-industrial village and family based way of life, the people’s horizons were so limited. They were ‘comfortable in their silent vegetation’:

Before the introduction of machinery, the spinning and weaving of raw materials was carried on in the workingman’s home. Wife and daughter spun the yarn that the father wove or that they sold, if he did not work it up himself. These weaver families lived in the country in the neighbourhood of the towns, and could get on fairly well with their wages, because the home market was almost the only one and the crushing power of competition that came later, with the conquest of foreign markets and the extension of trade, did not yet press upon wages. There was, further, a constant increase in the demand for the home market, keeping pace with the slow increase in population and employing all the workers; and there was also the impossibility of vigorous competition of the workers among themselves, consequent upon the rural dispersion of their homes. So it was that the weaver was usually in a position to lay by something, and rent a little piece of land, that he cultivated in his leisure hours, of which he had as many as he chose to take, since he could weave whenever and as long as he pleased. True, he was a bad farmer and managed his land inefficiently, often obtaining but poor crops; nevertheless, he was no proletarian, he had a stake in the country, he was permanently settled, and stood one step higher in society than the English workman of today.

So the workers vegetated throughout a passably comfortable existence, leading a righteous and peaceful life in all piety and probity; and their material position was far better than that of their successors. They did not need to overwork; they did no more than they chose to do, and yet earned what they needed. They had leisure for healthful work in garden or field, work which, in itself, was recreation for them, and they could take part besides in the recreations and games of their neighbours, and all these games — bowling, cricket, football, etc., contributed to their physical health and vigour. They were, for the most part, strong, well-built people, in whose physique little or no difference from that of their peasant neighbours was discoverable. Their children grew up in the fresh country air, and, if they could help their parents at work, it was only occasionally; while of eight or twelve hours work for them there was no question.

What the moral and intellectual character of this class was may be guessed. Shut off from the towns, which they never entered, their yarn and woven stuff being delivered to travelling agents for payment of wages — so shut off that old people who lived quite in the neighborhood of the town never went thither until they were robbed of their trade by the introduction of machinery and obliged to look about them in the towns for work — the weavers stood upon the moral and intellectual plane of the yeomen with whom they were usually immediately connected through their little holdings. They regarded their squire, the greatest landholder of the region, as their natural superior; they asked advice of him, laid their small disputes before him for settlement, and gave him all honour, as this patriarchal relation involved. They were “respectable” people, good husbands and fathers, led moral lives because they had no temptation to be immoral, there being no groggeries or low houses in their vicinity, and because the host, at whose inn they now and then quenched their thirst, was also a respectable man, usually a large tenant-farmer who took pride in his good order, good beer, and early hours. They had their children the whole day at home, and brought them up in obedience and the fear of God; the patriarchal relationship remained undisturbed so long as the children were unmarried.

The young people grew up in idyllic simplicity and intimacy with their playmates until they married; and even though sexual intercourse before marriage almost unfailingly took place, this happened only when the moral obligation of marriage was recognised on both sides, and a subsequent wedding made everything good. In short, the English industrial workers of those days lived and thought after the fashion still to be found here and there in Germany, in retirement and seclusion, without mental activity and without violent fluctuations in their position in life. They could rarely read and far more rarely write; went regularly to church, never talked politics, never conspired, never thought, delighted in physical exercises, listened with inherited reverence when the Bible was read, and were, in their unquestioning humility, exceedingly well-disposed towards the “superior” classes. But intellectually, they were dead; lived only for their petty, private interest, for their looms and gardens, and knew nothing of the mighty movement which, beyond their horizon, was sweeping through mankind. They were comfortable in their silent vegetation, and but for the industrial revolution they would never have emerged from this existence, which, cosily romantic as it was, was nevertheless not worthy of human beings. In truth, they were not human beings; they were merely toiling machines in the service of the few aristocrats who had guided history down to that time. The industrial revolution has simply carried this out to its logical end by making the workers machines pure and simple, taking from them the last trace of independent activity, and so forcing them to think and demand a position worthy of men.

Anyway, here is David McMullen’s article, with which I basically agree.

Marx Was No Green
There are Greens who espouse an “ecological Marxism” and claim that if Marx was around today he would support organic agriculture and a steady state economy based on renewable resources that provides everyone with “sufficiency”. In such an economy the poor and rich countries would converge, with the former increasing somewhat and the latter shrinking a lot. The most notable exponent of this view is John Bellamy Foster, the editor of The Monthly Review. (We will call him JBF for short.) He goes through the writings of Marx and tortures them until they deliver a green essence.
JBF draws our attention to a number of Marx’s views that you could use to start building a case that he was a Green. Marx was concerned about the destruction of natural stocks of fertile soil, forests and fish needed by future generations. He also commented on how consumption often included frivolities that reflected people’s alienation rather than real needs and that human thriving requires more than increased consumption. JBF also correctly points out that when Marx talked about mastering nature he did not mean destroying it but mastering its laws and harnessing it accordingly. However, from here on the case begins to unravel.

JBF tries to extract greenness from the fact that Marx was a materialist who believed we lived in a material world where we depended on plants and animals for food, water to drink and air to breath. This is a long stretch.

The greening of Marx of course requires JBF to explain away how Marx and Engels talked about communism unleashing the productive forces. He claims this thoroughly ungreen viewpoint was confined to their youthful less mature writings. This is not true as these quotes from the 1870s attest:

Let us take, first of all, the words “proceeds of labor” in the sense of the product of labor; then the co-operative proceeds of labor are the total social product.
From this must now be deducted: First, cover for replacement of the means of production used up. Second, additional portion for expansion of production [emphasis added]. Third, reserve or insurance funds to provide against accidents, dislocations caused by natural calamities, etc.
Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875
The expansive force of the means of production bursts the bonds that the capitalist mode of production had imposed upon them. Their deliverance from these bonds is the one precondition for an unbroken, constantly accelerated development of the productive forces, and therewith for a practically unlimited increase of production itself. Nor is this all. The socialised appropriation of the means of production does away, not only with the present artificial restrictions upon production, but also with the positive waste and devastation of productive forces and products that are at the present time the inevitable concomitants of production, and that reach their height in the crises. Further, it sets free for the community at large a mass of means of production and of products, by doing away with the senseless extravagance of the ruling classes of today and their political representatives. The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialised production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties — this possibility is now for the first time here, but it is here.
Engels, Anti-Duhring, 1877
JBF also has to misconstrue Marx’s constant reference to the fact that capitalists are compelled by the forces of competition to accumulate  in order to survive, by suggesting that he actually disapproved of the process. For Marx the plowing back of much of the surplus value rather than spending it all on extravagant consumption was what made capitalism superior to previous societies where there was a compulsion to stagnate. It is what delivered economic and social progress.
Under communism, the robust development of the productive forces will lead both to the qualitative improvements in output and also to the use of increasing amounts of energy and materials. This would occur not just through accumulation but also through greater investment in research and development and through making each generation of plant and equipment better than the last. It is not hard to imagine the uses. Increased automation will require millions of robots. People will want ready access to various recreation facilities such as gyms, gardens, artificial ski slopes, master chef kitchens, laboratories, workshops and research facilities. The requirements of an increasing population will also have to be considered. While the population is expected to plateau and then decline later this century, under communism you would expect it to start rising again as the burden of having children will be much less. We need large emergency facilities to deal with super-volcanoes and tsunamis. We will need to prepare for the effects of major climate change such rising sea levels and eventually the next ice age.  Major space programs will among other things protect us from meteors and allow us to start moving off the planet in order to explore, settle and exploit extraterrestrial resources. It will be a long time before we run out of things to do with iron, steel, glass etc. This increasing production under communism will proceed with an on-going decoupling from impacts on the environment. We will see food produced with less and less use of land and water, and the industrial waste streams in extraction, production and disposal cleaned up and reduced.

JBF’s pièce de résistance is to pick up on Marx’s analysis of the contradiction between town and country. In the separation of town and country, Marx was concerned about two things. Firstly it stunted the brains of those in the country and ruined the physical health of those in city. Secondly it meant a break in the nutrient cycle as human waste and food scraps were not returned to the farm but instead dumped in rivers and oceans. This transfer of people from the land to cities was an inevitable part of capitalist development. Capitalist farming needed less workers and the cost to the soil and to workers of concentrating the latter in the cities was of no concern to industrial capitalists.

However, these problems are being resolved without having to spread the population evenly over the landscape. High density living in large cities can now be quite healthy and comfortable. Living in the countryside no longer means being cut off from the world given modern modes of transport and communications. This modern transport can also truck in fertilizer, be it human waste, animal manure or the synthetic kind that is now produced in abundance. Indeed, the present concern is excessive nutrients and resulting emissions into ground water or the atmosphere. The best hope for dealing with this under present capitalist conditions is through increased regulation and better management including greater adoption of precision farming.

The organic farming favored by JBF would just make things worse for the environment. It does not allow the use of synthetic fertilizer and so requires rotations that include nitrogen fixing legumes that are simply plowed back into the soil. So a world of organic agriculture would require far more land being assigned to farming to get the same net crop and less for forests and other natural uses. Magically getting the 7 billion people presently on the planet to become vegetarians would reduce the land pressure given that crops consumed directly provide humans with more calories than if they are fed to animals first. However, that would be undone later this century when we have 2 or 3 billion extra mouths to feed.
It is very important that red and green are seen as being at total odds. Humanity and the environment require economic progress and communism is impossible without it. The sooner we have a vocal Marxism supporting economic growth, and un-green things such as nuclear power and genetic engineering, the better
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REFUTING ‘ANTI IMPERIALIST’ MYTHS: A Review of Bill Warren’s Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism.

This article by David McMullen was originally published in September 1993 in the journal “Red Politics”.There was also discussion of the review at the lastsuperpower site in 2006.

 

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Bill Warren’s book, Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism, performs a useful service by refuting much of the mythology that the left has embraced in the name of ‘anti- imperialism’. However, on the other hand, he manages to create his own brand of confusion. He does this, firstly, by blaming Lenin’s Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism for many of the left’s erroneous views.

And secondly, he is so busy extolling the historical mission of capitalism, that no effort is devoted to discussing how capitalism is an obstacle to human development and is becoming increasingly obsolete. Neverthelsee, despite these shortcomings it is the myth shattering quality of the book that predominates.

Warren begins by reminding us of the basics of a Marxist attitude to capitalism:

(a) It is an advance in all respects on earlier forms of society.

(b) It develops the productive forces and society generally, so creating the necessary material or objective conditions for future communist society. This development also generates the contradictions which lead to capitalism’s revolutionary overthrow.

The following passage from the Communist Manifesto that Warren quotes (Warren 1980, p 11) says it all.

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fact-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones becomes antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life, and his relations with his kind. (Marx and Engels, 1968, pp 34-5.)

This approach to capitalism is at total variance to that prevailing in the “left’, The usual practice is to bemoan the development of capitalist productive relations and productive forces, and to cherish the things that capitalism is destroying. A few examples might clarify this point.

(1) Increased economic concentration and the destruction of the petty bourgeoisie. A classic case of the left’s response is its bemoaning such things as agribusiness, supermarkets and fastfood chains.

(2) The increasing internationalisation of capital and the division of labor, which increases human intercourse on a world scale and lays the basis for a global society. This is denounced for destroying our independence and national heritage and placing us at the mercy of the multinationals.

(3) The destruction of cherished skills by new technologies (cherished, that is, by trendy left sociologists). To a Marxist, technological development is eliminating the technical division of labor which is the material basis of class society. In other words we are moving to a situation where you will have an educated and versatile workforce, on the one hand, and on the other hand, processes of production in which all types of activities can be performed equally by all members of the workforce.

(4) The erosion of traditional culture and social bonds. Traditional life tends to be romanticized, compared with soulless modern living We have lost something. On the other hand, to a Marxist the neuroses and instability of modern life are infinitely superior to the narrow mindless certainty and security of days gone by.

So given that capitalism is a social advance and creates the conditions for social revolution, how are we to view European colonial expansion into pre-capitalist societies?

Warren cites, by way of example, Marx’s recognition of the historically progressive role of Britain’s penetration of India.

England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindoostan, was actuated by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfill its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England, she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about the revolution. (S. Avineri (ed.) pp 93-94.)

Not long afterwards, Marx wrote as follows:

England has to fulfill a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating – the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundations of Western society in Asia (S. Avineri (ed.) pp 132.)

On the destruction side, they broke up or seriously undermined much of the existing social fabric and pre- capitalist modes of production. On the construction side, political unity was greatly enhanced by the British sword (mainly in the hands of local recruits), telegraph and railways, and embryonic industrialization began to emerge.

It is appropriate that the anti-colonial struggles of the twentieth century have not simply been directed at expelling the foreign oppressor. Rarely was the struggle simply one of returning to the days before colonial rule. For example, the struggle for independence in India was not directed at restoring the Mogul empire and independence in Africa did not mean returning to tribal hunter gathering or slash and burn societies.

In some cases such as in China, the revolution was directed at the total destruction of the traditional conditions that predated colonialism such as the remnants of feudalism. Even where independence from colonialism was not accompanied by fundamental social revolutions, the essential aspect of decolonisation was the establishment of a modern state, and the first steps towards a modern economy.

In the case of Czarist Russia, the modern industrial sector, which spawned the proletariat in the two decades prior to 1914, was primarily the product of foreign investment. At no stage did the Bolsheviks target this foreign ownership as something to be abhorred, an interesting point in the light of the economic nationalist position adopted by most of the Australian left.

To quote Warren:

Between 1896 and 1900 a quarter of all new companies formed were foreign, and by 1900 foreign capital accounted for 28% of the total. By 1914 the proportion had risen to 33%. Foreign capital controlled 45% of Russia’s oil output, 54% of her iron output, 50% of her chemical industry, 74% of her coal output. More than half of the capital of the six leading banks of the country – themselves controlling nearly 60% of all banding capital and nearly half of all bank deposits – was foreign (Warren 1980, p 46.)

The position commonly adopted by the left is to deny that capitalism is fulfilling its historical function in the developing countries. We are told that capitalism is not developing the productive forces nor is it destroying pre-capitalist conditions. The LDCs are supposedly being underdeveloped by the world capitalist system. A major part of Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism is devoted to refuting these views. The linchpin of these views is the modern theory of imperialism, dependency and underdevelopment. Typical of the theorists in this area are Paul Baran, Andre Gunder Frank and Samir Amin.

We are told that the people of the Third World have been getting progressively worse off during the modern era (ie since the industrial revolution) and have generally experienced a socio-economic and cultural regression. Capitalism has developed, and continues to do so, in a contradictory fashion, which generates at the same time development in the centre and underdevelopment in the periphery.

The implication is that it is fruitless to expect underdeveloped countries to repeat the stages of economic growth passed through by modern developed capitalist economies whose classical capitalist development arose out of pre-capitalist and feudal society. Hence, the historical role of capitalism in these countries is finished, or at a dead end. It is argued, moreover, that the achievement of political independence has not significantly improved prospects of development in the periphery.

A number of arguments are put forward to support the above position. Warren picks out three as being particularly important.

(a) A drain of economic surplus from periphery to centre is said to arise from the flow of profits from foreign investment in the periphery back to the metropolitan country, and from unequal exchange in trade.

Warren points out “that for such a drain to retard economic development it must be an absolute drain not simply an unequal transaction that nevertheless leaves both sides better off than before …”. For example, the comparison that people make between profit outflow and capital inflow tends to be very misleading. Surplus extraction under capitalism is not comparable to the plunder practiced by the empires of antiquity.
Foreign investment creates the surplus (with the help of local labor of course) before it extracts it; and it does this by developing the productive forces. You can certainly criticise the form taken by foreign investment and trade, and argue that Third World countries would gain if they were better organised. What you cannot argue is that the wealth of Third World countries is being depleted.

Closely related to this surplus gain concept is the idea that developed countries are better off than others because they have more than their share of the world’s resources. In other words the reason why we have better plumbing than people in Bangladesh is because we have more than our share of the world’s supply of pipes and trained plumbers.

Or to put it more generally, there is a fixed quantity of some substance called prosperity and the more that goes to one lot of people the less there is for everybody else. This is a total failure to understand economic development as a process of economic accumulation. Its most negative effect is the implication that the interests of people in the developed and underdeveloped world are at loggerheads.

(b) The ‘traditional’ division of labor between centre and periphery countries whereby the former produce manufactured goods and the latter primary goods, is seen to be imposed by the centre on the periphery and is a source of its backwardness.

Warren argues that the validity of the argument rests on two assumptions, which he sets out to refute. These are first that there was a possible and desirable alternative line of development to primary-product, export-lead growth in the backward countries concerned; and second, that the initial emphasis on the export of primary products actually erected serious impediments to subsequent diversification, especially along the lines of industrialisation.

(c) Imperialism or centre/periphery relations are said to encourage the preservation of precapitalist modes of production. This is discussed at two levels. First, there is the case where capitalist production at one point encourages pre-capitalist production at another point (eg, cotton production based on slavery). Here Warren correctly argues that the destructive force of capitalist relations would far outweigh any conserving tendencies.

Second, there is the claim that imperialism has tended to ally itself with local feudalism at the expense of progressive bourgeois forces. Warren replies thatthis is largely undercut by the almost universal willingness of feudal classes to transform themselves, at least partly, into capitalist industrialisers once conditions are ripe. Where

Warren falls short on this question in failing to emphasise that a thoroughly bourgeois revolution would far more successfully unleash capitalist development.

At a more general and theoretical level Warren attacks dependency theory on a number of grounds.

To begin with it is a static view. While a change in form over time tends to be conceded, the possibility of declining dependency is precluded. Moreover, changes in the centres of power is inadequately allowed for.

The theory is ahistorical in that it assumes the following:

(a) that there were latent suppressed historical alternatives to the development that actually took place; (b) that the failure of alternatives to materialise was primarily the result of external imposition (colonial policy).

The theory is metaphysical in that it basically explains social phenomenon in terms of external causes, rather than as an interaction of both internal and external factors. (Mao spoke of external factors as the conditions of change and internal factors as the basis of change.) Dependency theorists would, for example, explain a country’s backwardness by the fact that foreign capital is only invested in enclaves or cash crops.

A more sensible approach would perhaps be to see cause and effect running the other way – because the country is backward these industries are the only opportunities for investment. The backwardness would then be explained essentially by internal factors, namely a social system and mode of production significantly inferior to, or historically less advanced than, capitalism in developed countries.

Dependency theory has a strong thread of nationalist utopia, which establishes a set of thoroughly dubious criteria of what is good and what is detrimental. The first blossoms of bourgeois society are denounced simply as imperialist cultural penetration (coca cola culture) serving the interests of the mutinationals and reinforcing dependent status.

There is also the concept of articulated economy. Every country has to have its own steel industry, for example. It is argued that if you do not have the full range of industries you are trapped into some narrow and enslaving international division of labor.

This last point touches on a major area of confusion, namely, the distinction between dependence and interdependence. Warren says:

Since national economies are becoming increasingly interdependent, the meaning of dependence is even more elusive, not to say mystical.(Warren, 1980, p 182)

In fact with the increasing importance of international trade and capital movement, it is often the case that dependence on trade and foreign investment is a sign of economic development.

The last section of Warren’s book provides extensive evidence that considerable economic development has occurred in the Third Word during the post-war period. It has been meteoric in comparison with that in western countries. The western countries took centuries to emerge from the Middle Ages and eventually achieve an industrial takeoff in the nineteenth century.

On Lenin’s views of imperialism

In Warren’s opinion, the more recent theories of imperialism, such as underdevelopment and dependency are best regarded as post-war versions of the views expressed by Lenin in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,or at any rate stemming, or continuing, from where he left off. Warren also claimed that in this book Lenin was espousing views that were at variance with his earlier writings on the Narodniks and the role of capitalist development in Russia.

Here Warren is skating on thin ice. Much of his case rests on Lenin’s use of particular words, especially ‘moribund’, ‘stagnant’ and ‘parasitic’. By ‘moribund’, Lenin is referring to the increasing obsolescence of capitalism, exemplified most starkly by two world wars and economic crises of the sort that hit in the 1930s and will hit again in the future. He is not saying that social and economic development ceases.

In his use of the word, ‘stagnation’, Lenin is not saying that capitalism is no longer revolutionising the productive forces – a proposition that would obviously be wrong. He is referring to its increasing tardiness relative to a communist organisation of production – the productive forces are outgrowing the capitalist mode of production.
Warren tries to equate Lenin’s description of monopoly capital and imperialist countries as parasitic with the crude “surplus drain’ view . However, Lenin is not denying that the export of capital develops the productive forces in recipient countries; he is just saying that the centralisation in the ownership of capital shows up geographically.

Places such as London and New York have a far higher than average proportion of the world’s bloodsuckers; they tend to be richer and their ‘portfolios’ span the world. When Lenin explicitly discussed the impact of imperialism on the then colonies, he said that it was developing the productive forces. Warren unjustifiably shrugs this off as lip service to Marxist orthodoxy.

Warren had a number of other criticisms of Lenin’s position. However, they are not central to our present discussion. He claims (a) that capital exports have not increased in signifcance, (b) that Lenin espoused underconsumptionism and (c) that inter-imperialist rivalry was based on trade rather than competing capital. These and other issues could perhaps be looked at on some other occasion in a fuller discussion of Lenin’s book.

Bibliography
Amin, S., Accumulation on a World Scale, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1974.

Avineri, S., ed., Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernisation, New York, Anchor Books, 1969. Frank, A. G., Capitalism and Underdevelopment in LatinAmerica, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1971.

Greene, F., The Enemy, Notes on Imperialism and Revolution, London, Jonathon Cape, 1970. One of the more readable and also more appalling renderings of the ‘anti-imperialist’ position.

Lenin, VI, ‘On the So-Called Market Question’ Collected Works, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1963.

———– ‘The economic content of Narodism and the criticism of it in Mr Struve’s book’, Collected Works, Vol. 7, Moscow, 1963.

———–, Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Peking, Foreign Language Press.

Marx, K., Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1964.

———– and Engels, F., Manifesto of the Communist Party, Peking, Foreign Language Press, 1968.

Warren, W., Imperialism and capitalist industrialisation, in New Left Review (1973).

———–, Imperialism and Neo-Colonialism, British and Irish Communist Organisation (March 1977).

———–, Nations and corporations, in Times Literary Supplement, 1 November 1977..

———–, Poverty and prosperity in Times Literary Supplement, 12 December 1975.

———–, Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism, Verso, 1980, 274 p.

REVIEW: Bright Future: abundance and progress in the 21st century

This is a review I wrote in 2007 of David McMullen’s book “Bright Future – Abundance and Progress in the 21st Century“. The review appeared in the Canberra Times (Saturday 3 February 2007, Panorama supplement, p. 17)

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As a young long-haired student radical in the late 1960s, I used to gain inspiration from a cartoon that appeared in my university newspaper. The multi-panelled strip commenced with two characters crouched tightly in a sparse door-less little room. One of the characters stretches out his arms, accidentally damaging a wall. He becomes curious and starts making a hole in the wall but his companion is distressed and urges him to desist, lest he damage the room. The final panel shows an aerial view of the scene: both figures are actually confined in a tiny box but outside the box is a beautiful big sunny world. The message was and is clear: creativity requires destruction, a better world only comes from overturning the familiar safe one.

David McMullen’s book is refreshing in that it revives that spirit in consideration of the future.  His analysis will jar anyone who uncritically accepts the prevailing ethos of ‘doom and gloom’. He reclaims rational optimism and rebelliousness, rejecting the inherent conservatism of opposition to globalisation and modern industrial society – which he characterises as pseudo-left.

Bright Future is no mere polemic. McMullen’s training in economics informs his view as much as his decades of involvement in left-wing movements. His analysis is essentially a Marxist one, though this is not stated in the book. The text is meticulously researched and there are nearly 700 endnotes to lead the critical reader into sources of substantiation for claims made. The book will either be ignored or, hopefully, will have an influence in promoting debate about the issues canvassed, including, controversially, the author’s support for ‘collective ownership’ as an alternative to capitalism.

The content is wide-ranging but focuses strongly on the question of food production and world hunger, affluence and resource exploitation. Specific issues discussed include GM foods, soil degradation, water, fisheries, non-renewable resources, fossil fuels, global warming, alternative energies, nuclear power, pollution, deforestation and species extinction. He shows how food production can be increased through technological and scientific advance and better management practices. It is possible he argues, to eliminate hunger by the end of the century ‘The planet’s capacity to comfortably accommodate us’, he says, ‘is limited only by the application of human ingenuity, something we are never going to run out of’.

While not downplaying environmental problems, McMullen’s take is that Nature is remarkably resilient and human impact is minor compared to the planet’s ‘battering on a regular basis from super volcanoes, meteors and ice ages’. Moreover, the affluence of modern industrial societies is what allows for environmental awareness and protection.  For example, the best way to save the tropical forests is to integrate the children of subsistence farmers into the modern economy rather than to idealize their way of life.

The author sees capitalism as playing a continuing progressive role in those places still emerging from pre-industrial feudalistic systems and a section of the text dealing with the problem of kleptocracy in Africa is particularly informative and cogently argued.

What makes McMullen’s book unusual and important however is that it does not reach the conclusion of those who argue from the Right that material progress under capitalism is our benefactor and that this system is therefore the ‘end of history’. McMullen points out that affluence under capitalism continues to mask gross inequality and is only achieved through the alienation of wage slavery which chokes personal development and human initiative.

He argues that the continuing industrial revolution creates the conditions necessary for capitalism’s demise. As technological change progressively does away with the old back-breaking, dangerous and boring jobs, making work more complex, interesting and challenging, the need for a capitalist ruling class becomes less and less. More than half the workforce in the most advanced industrial societies now requires post-secondary education. With the automation of the most unpleasant jobs, who needs the profit motive? And who needs what McMullen calls “the master class”?

Collective ownership, he argues, will be ‘the obvious way to go’ and would unleash the creative energies of the individual, ‘freeing the economy from the distorting effects of sectional interest’. This, he says, is ‘real free enterprise’.

The obvious challenge to McMullen’s thesis is that socialism, when attempted under Communist governments, has failed. To this he responds that the experience of such socialism has been limited to places that had barely emerged from feudalism and had not yet developed advanced forms of industrial capitalism.

‘Bright Future’ is a scintillatingly dangerous book; a threat to the stability of walls and boxed thinking everywhere.