The Point
Last updated: 07 December 2018.

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Everything you wanted to know about how to get rid of capitalism and replace it with something nicer, but were afraid to ask.

 

Point Editor Steve Arnott asks what kind of society can we envision for 2117, a hundred years hence? Will it be a post capitalist, post scarcity, mass democratic society - and if so, how do we start building it now? Along the way he outlines a program to make an independent Scotland one of the first post-capitalist ready societies on the face of the planet, and takes a glance back at the lessons of October 1917.

“I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution

Take a bow for the new revolution 

Pick up my guitar and play

Just like yesterday

Then I’ll get down on my knees and pray

We don’t get fooled again.”

- The Who  Won’t Get Fooled Again

  

Introduction           

Let me first explain what this isn’t about.

As part of a series of articles in The Point commissioned to commemorate the month of the 100th anniversary of the Russian October Revolution, written by the political writer and editor who commissioned those articles, and who specifically sought that that largely publicly unremarked centenary should NOT pass unremarked in the online publication for which he is responsible, you may have clicked the link to this in the expectation of a detailed enunciation of my own ideological views on the October Revolution.

Were the Bolsheviks boldest, but the Mensheviks right? What were the roles of Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin? Who carried the revolutionary banner highest and proudest and who drowned it in blood? Were the seeds of the degeneration of the revolution present at its outset? Or does Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism as embodiment of a counter revolutionary bureaucracy suffice? Or is the truth deeper still, somewhere in between and more complex? At what point did the vital mass direct democracy of the workers’, soldiers’ and sailors’ turn into a party dictatorship, and why? Could it have been prevented? And what was the nature of the state it eventually gave rise to: Collectivist totalitarian bureaucracy? Deformed workers’ state? State capitalism?

I’m sure that would be an engrossing article for someone to hammer out somewhere on a keyboard. Be my guest, I’ll publish it here in The Point. But if that’s the article you expect from me ‘I’m happy to disappoint you’, as Ripley says to Burke in Aliens.

It’s not that these things are historically and theoretically unimportant – they clearly are. I may touch on them from a sideways angle from time to time, but these are the food of ten thousand political polemics that have been rehearsed again and again in this month of ‘October’, and in the last 100 years since the first momentous ‘October’. It amounts to a mountain of historical theoretical polemic which continues to be added to by the day…and my small addition is scarcely required or even desirable. The purpose of this article is to set aside, for once, the manifold divisions of the left and instead to outline a broad appeal, a vision, a plan even, for achieving transformative social and economic change in the lifetimes of the human generations here and now and to come.

Consequently, I will be first and foremost be looking to the future, not the past.

I will be asking you to envision what kind of society, or international commune or federation of societies we could build here on Earth, our blue marble, by the year 2117, a hundred years hence and two hundred years since the revolution that took place in Russia in 1917. And I will be asking what kind of steps are necessary to take, here in 2017/18 and beyond, for us as a species to be able to create at least the initial conditions for moving beyond the dynamic and destructive logic of capitalism; its glories and limits; its destruction of the planet; its manifold human miseries, both great and petty.

As far as history is concerned I’ll be asking you to take the long view of it, and to understand that what stretches in front of us vastly outweighs the importance of what lies behind. We should respect history without being bound by it.

And we should move on from the shoe and the gourd, and whether it’s the Judean People’s Front or the People’s Front of Judea that really, really hates the Romans - because, if both the history and the science of human beings accord on one thing, it is this: that it will take a genuinely broad and mass movement, with a clear and achievable program for lasting change, and bursting with diversity, difference and fresh ideas, to begin to truly change our world.

Follow the shoe…no, no follow the gourd!

So I’ll talk to you a bit about the long view of history, what it is and why it matters.

I’ll sketch out what I think are the philosophical bases for this coming (r)evolution, and argue why progressives the world over should adopt them.

I’ll show how we progress from the local to the global by outlining a specific political program for 21st century change in my own country that could be adapted for others; a program which will set out how an independent Scotland could lead the way on the next few decades in becoming post-capitalist ready.

Finally, I’ll try and outline why I believe we are now entering into a qualitatively different stage for capitalism where at last the possibility of its replacement as the major mode of production by something more dynamic, egalitarian, democratic and sustainable becomes very, very real.

**A final point on method and layout. At the end of certain sections where I think it may be necessary I've included links to further reading. The beauty of social media is, of course, that how something is read is in the gift of the reader. But for the sake of the flow of my argument I would urge folk to read to the end of this 21st century manifesto before returning to any links for expansionary reading. 

1917…2017…2117 – the long view of history

In a story that’s probably at least partly apocryphal, Richard Nixon is reputed to have asked Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, during his state visit to China in the seventies, what he thought the implications of the French revolution were for western civilisation. Zhou pondered for a moment (allegedly) and then replied ‘it’s too early to tell’.

The Marxist writer George Novack turned the phrase ‘the long view of history’ into popular coinage in radical circles (he wrote the book with of that name). The basic idea is that ideologies, ideas, revolutions, movements, counter revolutions and the progress and development of human societies have to be understood in historical context, and across historical timescales. Rome wasn’t built in a day and socialism won’t be built in the space of a single lifetime.

There have been (broadly) four eras of human history and pre-history defined by the mode of production and reproduction of the means of life.

Primitive subsistence societies (hunter/ gatherer) based on clans or tribes were the dominant form of social existence on the face of the planet from about 250, 000 years ago until about 10, 000 years ago; agrarian/city state/slave societies were the most advanced societies from then until the early hundreds of the Common Era. Feudal forms of society then predominated in Europe and parts of Asia for many hundreds of years. Capitalism was little more than a blastula in feudalism’s womb in the fifteen and sixteen hundreds; the Renaissance and the Enlightenment nurtured it ideologically, The English Civil War and the French Revolution were midwives to its violent birth.

Capitalism only becomes the truly dominant form of production in Europe, the USA and the imperialist colonies in the 1800’s. Marx and Engels write The Communist Manifesto, looking to a higher form of society without capitalist exploitation and contradictions, in 1848, and Marx gives a scientific explanation of the capitalist mode of production and its nature in Capital in the 1860’s, when capitalism was still in the first flushes of its youth.

The Russian Revolution took place only two thirds of a lifetime later, in 1917, in a country that was itself backward in relations to the development of capitalist production compared to Western Europe and the USA, at a time when capitalism in its fully fledged form on a world scale was barely a couple of lifetimes old. Though there were concentrations of heavy capitalist industry and an organised working class in the bigger cities, the vast majority of the population in Russia were still rural peasantry working within barely disguised feudal social and economic relations.

Was capitalism truly ‘ripe for revolution’ at such an early stage in its existence, as many Bolsheviks though at the time? Empirically, it would appear it was not – but that’s hindsight. And those alive at the time can be forgiven their honourable 'error'. The blood, carnage and sheer class hypocrisy of the imperialist slaughter of the 1914-18 war could do nothing other than give rise to the highest revolutionary and internationalist instincts – to end it, once and for all, and build a society of human solidarity on the bones and wreckage of the old order.

It’s a long march over the bridge to the future

Rising above our day to day, week to week activisms and iconographies for a moment, and adopting that long view of history, is it not clear, however, that the first workers’ revolution, the first experiment in a truly socialist society would inevitably have its own contradictions and mistakes, failures and successes? Those who crow that socialism has failed, and that the collapse of the Soviet Union and its totalitarian model in the latter part of the 20th century showed an ’End of History’ was at hand, would do well to remember that the human species has been on the planet for 250, 000 years. Capitalism is only a few hundred years old, and while - as Marx outlined in that 1848 manifesto - it is a dynamic system that has seen enormous human progress in that short period of time  (not least due to the triumph of the scientific method) it has been at the huge price of exploitation, oppression, war, imperialism, crisis and poverty. The contradictions of capitalism have grown, not diminished, and I’ll turn to that in more detail later.

The long view of history as glimpsed through the human lens itself has contradictions. Things can appear to move both glacially slowly and, at other times, with bewildering rapidity.

Now when I watch certain some old cop shows that were contemporaneous in the eighties when I first saw them, it feels like watching a period drama. Nae mobiles! And how do they breathe in that fug of smoke? The miners’ strike and the mass anti-poll tax campaign can sometimes feel like it happened yesterday, but more often seem to belong to an entirely different historical era.

But whenever we got caught up in the triumphs or disappointments of that moment, this campaign, that battle, we should remember the long view of history – and that if we count an average human lifetime as the biblical three score and ten, then right at this moment we are not even three human life-spans removed from the Battle of Waterloo.

Now, does that mean I’m advocating a purely gradualist approach to changing society? Or that we can all kick off our shoes, put our feet up, relax and let the next generation do all the heavy lifting? Absolutely not!

All of us who want to see an end to the social and economic dictatorship of capital - revolutionaries and (r)evolutionaries alike - need to balance patience with a sense of urgency. The task, in its thousand manifold parts, is always at hand. But it does mean understanding that overthrowing the existing social order of things on a world scale is not a straightforward linear process, but an extraordinarily complex one with more twists and turns and plotlines than Game of Thrones.

 

Of Tyrion and Trotsky…

So, taking the ‘long view of history’ what steps do we take NOW towards building the new society?

The world’s first workers’ revolution took place in 1917, and for all its heroism, aspiration, and echoes of potential that still speak to us today, it ended up a totalitarian abortion. We live, here and now, at the time of writing, in 2017.

Above all, this is about where we collectively want to be, and conspire to be, in a future which is still ours to shape.

Can we envision capitalism itself being history 100 years hence?

And can we construct a coherent and realisable plan to begin to make that happen; one that that learns from the mistakes of the past and avoids them?

 

So where do we want to be...and how can we collectively get there?

 

Where would we like to be by 2117?

In a state of Fully Automated Luxury Communism?

A post capitalist demarchy (democratic anarchy)?

The higher stage of communism as outlined by Frederick Engels in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific?

Or my own favourite yardstick for the beginning of real human history; something very like Iain Banks’ Culture?*

Imagine, imagine, imagine as John Lennon sang. Let your evolutionary, revolutionary and science fictional human minds run riot for a moment with liberatory potential. Let a thousand futures bloom.

A rose (or thistle), by any other name, smells just as sweet. What I mean by that in this context is that we can let labels and conceptions get between us, divide us, set us on hard and inflexible thought rails that mean our agitprop trains of the mind never meet. Or we can try and see the commonalities that all of these visions have - because they are many, significant, powerful, and have the capacity to unite us.

Each of these visions shares the idea of an egalitarian non-hierarchical society where mass direct democracy plays the crucial role in decision making.

Each shares the idea of a post-capitalist mode of production.

Each shares the idea that science and technology together with these new social conditions produces a material and cultural superabundance for the common weal that meets all human needs and desires.

Each shares in the notion that it is society that makes individual self-realisation possible, and individual self realisation that makes society diverse, and a living evolving thing capable of further organic development.

Each of these visions has as its core philosophy (and here I can do no better than quote Engels) that all sentient beings have the right to make their own histories, and leap ‘from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom’.

These are societies where class contradictions are history and the ‘full and free development of each is a condition of the full and free development of all’ (and vice versa).

Tomorrowland?

OK, I hear you say, dear readers – but the real differences and questions that lie between us and in front of us are how do we get there? The more sceptical and less left leaning reader might point out: all well and good – but what about the intractable problem of human nature? Are we really capable of creating a society where everyone is looked after well materially but also has maximal personal freedom? Or, to put it another way, was socio-biologist E.O. Wilson right when he quipped ‘Marxism – great idea, wrong species’?

Now is the time to make good on the two central promises I made at the start of this piece; to state the central philosophical premises on which any attempt to sweep away the old society and build the new must be based, and to outline an adaptable sample program (in this case for an independent Scotland) to achieve those initial conditions we talked about right at the start, the multiple strong attractors that would make possible the organic development of a post scarcity, post capitalist, mass democratic society – or, in other words, socialism.

(*For those of you who don't know Iain Bank's Culture novels, a decent intro can be found here.)

 

The seven philosophical and scientific principles of the coming (r)evolution

 

Using again the language of complexity theory as our conceptual anchor, these are the great attractors around which any successful transformation of society must revolve.

They are numbered for reference, but in no particular order, because all points are critical: T.E. Lawrence went to Arabia and found seven pillars of wisdom; these are my seven interlocking loci in a multi-dimaensional 'map' of how we can concretely and successfully build our imagined future. The success of each element individually relies on the application of all the others to it, and vice versa.

These are not all explicitly marxist concepts, but the closest reading of Marx leaves us is no doubt that he considered our first two ‘attractors’ absolutely fundamental to any successful revolutionary endeavour; ‘the property question’ and the key of mass democracy.

So (1), Social Ownership (and social approriation and distribution of surpluses of production)

The breaking of the social and political power of capital through a decisive and ongoing shift from private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange to collective social ownership and control is an absolute necessity.

This can be achieved through a range of forms of social ownership: state public ownership, co-operatives and not for profit social enterprises, and community ownership. All need to be regulated so that they work for the common weal of society as a whole, all require what Trotsky called – and I paraphrase – ‘the oxygen of democracy’. Internally they should have financial and social reward incentives for productivity and successful innovation, and they should be allowed to trade freely with each other and the world within the legal boundaries set by society.

When this is done, profits that were absorbed by private owners are now surpluses that can be reinvested back into that particular branch of production, or in new research and development, or back into society as a whole as a social dividend. Decisions that under capitalism were taken by a handful of wealthy shareholders primarily for the production of profit, are now taken democratically and reflect the needs, wishes and priorities of society as a whole.

It needn't happen all at once, and some elements of capitalism will be necessary and inevitable in any transitional period. Nationalising fish and chip shops, hairdressers and every species of white van man would be counterproductive and a waste of time and energy (though there's no reason why incentives to move  towards community and co-operative ownership, or a social enterprise model shouldn't exist). Let the micro-economy (and parts of the medium economy) adapt itself to the new conditions.

Strategic state planning will have its role to play, of course - but we should avoid a command economy. We need something more subtle and self correcting than commissars sitting at computer screens, to borrow a phrase from Paul Mason. Socially owned enterprises of all sizes should be able to meet need flexibly and dynamically, and we can model different types of social ownership and democratic oversight to see what works best

But one thing is absolutely, crystal clear - you cannot have a post-capitalist society without a post-capitalist mode of production.

(2) Democracy

Socialism without democracy is like a body without oxygen” - to now give that quote from Leon Trotsky in full.

The body without oxygen he was describing, Stalin’s Soviet Union, piled up mountains of bodies, and grew a cancerous and privileged bureaucracy which would eventually ensure the destruction of the world’s first workers’ state and its ideological satellites. The experience of the gross failure of this totalitarian model of ‘socialism’ – its atrocities, economic incompetencies, shortages, and assaults on human liberty and dignity are hardwired into the human 20th century psyche and carry on into the 21st.

No-one used to democracy and being able to buy stuff is going to support any model of revolutionary change that has a whiff of the gulag about it. Folk might support public ownership, and the redistribution of wealth – but if they think they are going to have to queue for a packet of sausages, or worry about their door being kicked in the middle of the night because they aren’t towing the Party line, then they’ll probably choose to stick with capitalism, for all of its manifest faults, thank you very much,

That’s why any vision of  21st century socialism or post-capitalism has to have democracy at its beating heart.

And it has to offer a higher level of democratic control, participation and culture than is on offer under the current social and economic system. Representative democracy has to be more flexible, more transparent, and both closer to the people and more representative of the people as a whole.

But representative democracy is not enough. In first of all preparing for, then making real, and then building our new society over a period of years and decades, mass direct democracy - which has become more possible more than ever before both technically and culturally due to the development of digital technology and mass social media – must first of all supplement and act as a corrective to representative democracy, then play an increasing role in the key decision making processes at a local, regional, national and international levels.

Finally, as our new society emerges and matures, mass direct democracy will take over every aspect of the decision making process, replacing representative democracy, doing away with the need for any hierarchical or separate political class.

Democracy can take place in both virtual and real spaces

At this stage – and it will take considerable time to get there – the cultural, material and educational level of the general population is so high, and democracy so deeply ingrained into the practices of everyday life that important civic functions can be selected for by lot. Here at last, not in the heat and fervour and material and cultural backwardness of October 1917, but in the full flowering of our organically developed new world of 2117, is Lenin’s dream that ‘every cook can be Prime Minister, and every Prime Minister a cook’ finally realised.

(3) Universal human rights.

The left must seek to write these into the constitutions of post-capitalist societies and societies aiming to become post-capitalist ready. More than that we should seek to hardwire them into the very nerves and bones of cultural, social and economic life.

I don't intend to list ALL of the human rights we should look to enshrine - but we can take a lead from existing conventions on human rights without necessarily doing a simple paste and copy that would leave gaps we might want to fill, or automatically import property based rights or rights that reflect the prejudices of religious groups. But here are some of the obvious ones, plus a couple of suggestions:

The right of freedom of thought and expression, and freedom of association.

The right to a private life

The right to participate fully in the democratic process, both individually, and collectively in the workplace as a trade union, or in wider society as political parties

Full legal rights, including the presumption of innocence and due judicial process.

Equality rights - no discrimination on the basis of race, colour, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender or disabilty.

The right to control your own fertility, including a woman's right to choose.

The right to up-to-date and maximally efficacious healthcare, education and social care where required, paid for through general taxation and free at the point of need.

The right of genetic equality within a paradigm of maintaining genetic diversity. (Eh? Confused by that one? It a long argument we haven't the space for in the main narrative about how we maximise new biogenetic technologies like Crisp(r) for the benefit of humankind while avoiding the nightmare pitfalls of eugenics dystopias. A seperate article will be forthcoming. Meanwhile there's an appendix at the end of this article which covers the basics).

The right to a home, clean cheap water and sanitation, affordable domestic energy and an affordable and maximally linked and efficacious transport system.

The right to participate in the internet.

The right to a universal basic income, set at levels that allow a reasonable quality of life.

Finally, it goes without saying that all rights have boundaries. Impinging on the rights of others is the boundary where freedom ends, and civil and criminal law comes into play.

(4) Science, reason and secularism.

Science, the scientific method and the technologies and understandings of the world that has arisen from these things, have been the greatest single benefactors to the common good of humankind these last few centuries - even with the distortions and abuses that the capitalist mode of production and the profit motive introduce.

As occasional contributor to The Point Gary Fraser once observed in these pages 'scientists are the true revolutionaries.'

Too often in the past real science has been subverted by totalitarian regimes of the so-called 'left', and resisted by religionism and irrationalism. We must reject all forms of Lysenkoism and Luddism 

In the future society we wish to build, science and technology - open, transparent, subject to democratic scrutiny and allied to the new and diverse forms of social ownership and funding - can be the liberatory driver that helps us increase the quality of life for everyone, reduces human suffering through disease, combats existential threats to our very existence, including global warming, and paves the way for technological superbundance and the peaceful and ecological move of humankind out from the surface of our first home, Earth, and into space.

Alongside our social and economic (r)evolution we need a new renaissance of Enlightenment thinking, a new Age of Reason for the entire species that sweeps away the last vestiges of feudalism, mediaevalist oppression and zombie irrationalism.

And precisely because that will mean confronting some of the absurdities of religion, we need to champion secularism, and secular societies. Only secularism protects freedom OF all religion and other forms of philosophy and thought without privilege or prejudice, and at the same time guarantees freedom FROM religious interference in the lives of those who don't want it.

(5) Struggle 

In his superb biography of Karl Marx Francis Wheen recounts the following story. Towards the very end of his life, on a beach in England, Marx was interviewed by a journalist from the New York Sun. As the interview was drawing to a close the journalist said he wanted to ask a final question which would touch on the very essence of being: what is? The exchange, as that journalist recorded it, is worth quoting:

“Time waits for no man, and night is at hand. Over the thought of the babblement and rack of the age and ages, over the talk of the day and the scenes of the evening, arose in my mind one question touching upon the final law of being, for which I would seek answer from this sage...

(Marx) looked upon the roaring sea and the restless multitude on the beach, and replied in a deep and solemn tone “struggle”  ... At first it seemed as though I had heard the echo of despair; but peradventure it was the law of life.”

It's a quote that will strongly echo with activists, camaigners, revolutionaries and lefts of all shades and hues who have struggled and fought all their lives to make things better for ordinary people. And it resounds doubly for me as a Marxist and Darwinist, because its invocation of implacable class struggle for the 99% (aka the working class) against the 1% (aka the capitalist class), is wound together in that single word with a deep understanding of the colossal and aeons long evolutionary struggle of all life on Earth, which has shaped both our species and our biosphere, and continues to shape them.

It is inconceivable that we can attain either the initial conditions for a transition to post capitalism in one or many countries, let alone the ongoing transition to the kind of society have we have envisioned for a century from now, without struggle, ongoing, reflective, national and international, of individual, group, party and mass, for every hill and redoubt, every concession and breakthrough, every reform and revolution.

On the other hand, a good socialist put the point to me years ago that, with the technological singularity of artificial intelligence and robotics, 3-D micro manufactury and nanotech, and biogenetics approaching in these coming decades, there would come a point when we would collectively 'flick capitalism from our shoulders as if it were a piece of dandruff'. This is a view I also have some sympathy with.

Surely both positions cannot be true? And yet they are. Like so many propositions that on the surface level of formal logic appear to be antinomies, they are in the deeper reality of the materialist dialectic, intepenetrating contradictions within a unified whole.

Science and technology does not exist in a vacuum but in a social and economic context, and while, for reasons I will touch on in due course, the developing technologies will fundamentally weaken the driver of capital - the rate of profit - it will require social and economic changes of an epoch making nature for humanity to get to that stage where our mass Atlas can collectively shrug capitalism from its shoulders and the new era of human history can begin, fully freed form the material and mental straitjackets of the past.

Capitalism has been busy these past two hundred years - to paraphrase Old Charlie once again - creating its own gravediggers. First of all the working class and its potential for mass direct democracy and the transformation of social relations of production.

Paul Mason in Post-capitalism argues that the traditional working class as the left understood it is now in the process of being sublated into what Marx - and he - theorises as 'the general intellect'.Perhaps, because though it sounds like it, sublated does not mean subsumed. It's a far richer concept. Check it out. In any case, the working class - those who do not own the means of production and must commodify their own labour power to live in the scientific, rather than sociological, meaning of the term are now the clear majority in most countries on the planet.

More recently capitalism has begun to produce the material means in technological terms that would enable a new society to out produce and out innovate anything that has come before.

Yet the capitalists will not go gently into that good night. They will rage, rage against the dying of the Golden Goose's light. The 1% as a class will not give up their unimaginable wealth, lifestyle and elitist privileges, let alone their social power, willingly. (There may be one or two wise and far sighted exceptions that make the rule).

The wealth and lifestyle are secondary things. Annoying but not fundamental. The social power and elitist privileges are fundamental, and will have to be wrestled from the grasp of the 1% using all forms of political struggle available to us.

(6) A sustainable world, and becoming an interstellar species

The astronaut's view of history

A picture is worth a thousand words and this one says it all, really.

We have polluted and overpopulated our planet, created climate change, and shrunk our biosphere. Capitalism's drive for profit (and the Stalinist bureaucracies' relentless drive for industrial production in the 20th century) together with our own increasing material expectations, have not served planet Earth well. But right now it's the only planet we have. Marx (Now why does that name keep popping up?) once noted that while labour was the father of production, the earth was its mother. A greener fellow than one might expect from first acquaintance, Marx understood that all value is created by human labour (mental or physical), but the resources by which we create the things we use come from the planet, and are correspondingly finite.

Part of the project of building a new society must be to start cleaning up the mess the old has created, and to move to more sustainable ways of producing goods, infrastructure and energy. The problem of climate change is now having a real noticeable impact on many human and animal lives and ecologies. Severe and unusual weather is becoming more the normal than the exception as the polar icecaps continue to melt. This generation and the next MUST meet the challenges of global warming and over come them - first by stabilising and then reversing current trends.

It is a mammoth task, and one many capitalist governments and climate change denying leaders seem incapable of grasping, but we ourselves are in danger of becoming the next mammoth if we don't make fighitng climate change something that we 'build into the bricks' of every political and socio-economic decision.

But even a successful last minute victory against climate change does not guarantee the future of our species from mass extinction. Asteroid hits, viral plagues, supervolcanic eruptions, and even runaway technologies themselves, could, in theory end all life as we know it on Earth - or at least cast us back to a new dark ages.

The attentive reader will have noticed that I have already alluded to the fact that the problems created by science and its appropriation in the drive for profit can be challenged and resolved by science in service of the cultured and educated democratic mass, and that used in the right way it can help us overcome any existential threats to planet and species. But the surest way of ensuring survival for the species and its cultural, historical heritage is for the species to move off planet, to become an extraplanetary, and, eventually, an interstellar species. This must be done in the right way of course. At first we must be explorers, and when we do start to settle in large numbers elsewhere in our own stellar system and - in the centuries to come - in the relatively nearby interstellar spaces, we must not be conquerors, or arrogant colonisers. We cannot take our heretofore destructive ecological tendencies with us. And when we meet the aliens - as surely we will one day - whether they are more or less advanced than us, we will have a moral duty to show good galactic citizenship.

Of course, there will always be those who say we shouldn't spend money on exploring the void while there are still many problems remaining unresolved here on planet Earth. I say let's not talk of either/or but and/and. A quarter of the world's annual defence budgets redeployed to the peaceful exploration and colonisation of space in an international effort would be a huge boost, and the technological and economic spin-offs almost beyond imaging.  

But the greatest and deepest reason for to reach for the planets and stars is that it satisfies a deep emotional need and intellectual curiousity within us. Knowledge, and the breaking of boundaries enriches the human spirit. It is the secular sense in which we can still reach for the infinite while leaving the juvenile fantasies of our collective misspent youth behind us. 

(For those seeking further reading on 'Green Marx', this article by Green-Left Adrian Cruden is an excellent starting point, and more can be read on my pro-space argument here)

(7) The deep understanding that we have both social being and species being; that as individuals and as a species we are both socially and biologically                      constructed.

“We have…the mental equipment to foster our long term selfish interests rather than merely our short term selfish interests. We can see the long term benefits of participating in a ‘conspiracy of doves’, and we can sit down together to discuss ways of making the conspiracy work. We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. We can even discuss ways of cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism – something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world. We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on Earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.”

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene


The idea of 'the new man', even 'the Soviet Superman' is one that permeates Leninist and Stalinist literature. In modern left discourse, and stemming largely from 'cultural' European intellectualist discourses of the sixties and seventies, the notion that we as human beings - in every aspect of our lives - are wholly socially constructed dominates whole tranches of human endeavour, particlularly those related to the social sciences...and not always with edifying results.

Both myths are false and have been damaging to the socialist project in different ways. Socialist revolutions that believed that human beings were essentially blank slates upon which capitalism had written tended to draw the dubious conclusion that the old neural slate could be wiped clean and written on anew. It was only necessary to abolish capitalism and human beings would change their nature, or revert back to some kind of noble savage uncorrupted by explotation or diminished by alienation. Such illusions very soon ran up aganst the rocks of hard scientific reality -  usually at a huge cost to the revolutionary process and program. There is such a thing as human nature, just as there is such a thing as octopus nature, or orangutan nature.

Away from the Leninist 'new man', modern and well meaning social constructivist efforts abound - the Scottish Government's Curriculum for Education would be one such long running experiment. Almost always these experiments run up against the same hard reality and come unstuck. In the case of CfE something that was supposed to free up teachers and broaden the curriculum has ended up drowning teachers in cma and tick box bureaucracy, and has narrowed the curricular choices available to pupils in many schools

The reason that both these approaches had/have appeal of course, is that there is a kernel of truth within them. Undoubtedly there are are large aspects of human behaviour that are societally influenced, or 'socially constructed'. One can neither be a Marxist or a socialist or an anthropologist or an informed Darwinian neuro-scientist and believe anything else. The trouble is no-one ever solved any problem with only half an equation, and the other half of this equation that has tended to be overlooked, underestimated or downright ignored by many on the left is that human beings are also biologically constructed - that is to say we are evolved beings with natural instincts and evolved tendencies inherent in our genetic make up and the biological structures of our brain that emerge from that.

All too readily this view - which is the widely accepted scientific view and not at all controversial within biology (other than with a few straw man building not-in-our-geners still manfully holding onto their discredited arguments from the seventies) - is rejected by, or misunderstood, by many on the left as 'biological determinism' and something alien to the left tradition. It is neither. The view that human beings (or persons, if we want to think more widely about potential artificial consciousness, or aliens, or other social intelligent animals on the planet) are both socially and biologically constructed is, by its very defintion, NEITHER a biological determinist argument or a social determinist argument. It's a carfully constructed interpenetrating dialectic of both in which consciousness, intelligence and personality emerge as a result of the interactions of both.

Marx (him again!) was very, very clear on this 'man is a political animal in the literal sense,' he wrote. He was very specific. We have 'both social and species being.'

It's great that socialist parties have so many teachers, social carers and social workers in their ranks. Bur we could do with more scientists, engineers and, specifically, biologists! 

Scratch the surface of a social constructivist and you'll find a deep seated anxiety about human nature - perhaps because of right wing discourses that human nature is essentially selfish and therefore any attempt to build a society based on social collaboration and solidarity, rather than individualism and greed, is doomed to failure.

Unfortunately for those right wing cynics, and fortunately for those of us seeking to build a different society, the science is unequivocal. The potentialities for co-operation, empathy and selfless behaviour are just as hardwired into the human template as any capacities for egoism or selfishness. Both sets of capacities exist, of course, because under certain circumstances, together or seperately, they can confer an evolutionary advantage. The kind of society we live in, or choose to live in, or build, may help bias the selection of those traits in one direction or another - but they can't get rid of them entirely.

A successful post scarcity, post capitalist society, or a society aiming to be post-capitalist ready needs to understand both the fundamental limits of social constructivism and of human nature, and to work with those attractors and within those boundaries. Like any good tool trying to carve or sculpt something beautiful, new and lasting, the (r)evolution must work with the grain of human nature, and not against it.

All else is folly.

Finally, on this subject, I'd advise all those who have been taught, or read, or have assumed that Richard Dawkins is a 'biological determinist' should consider the quote that heads up this section, from the end of The Selfish Gene - a book that is actually mainly about biological altruism.

(This exposition in this section is necessarily brief but you can read a fuller and developing one herehere and here )

 

What are the initial conditions for the organic emergence of a post-scarcity, post capitalist, mass democratic state?

A program for a future independent Scotland shows the way.              

 

Let's play imagine again.

We are in the twenty twenties and Scotland has achieved its independence with an interim constitution in place. Capitalism internationally by this time will almost certainly have had Crash 2 - a loud echo, if not a dowright repetition of the great finacial crash and recesssion of 2007 to 2012 - because they never resolved, and, in fact, are incapable of resolving, the underlying issues that caused the first crash in the first place. It is increasingly clear, at least to a growing progressive minority. that capitalism as a socio-economic system no longer represents the future of mankind - if it ever did. An alliance of socialists, anti-capitalists, left-Greens, and left independence supporters is coalescing around the idea that our new indy Scotland can be a shining beacon for a better future internationally, by becoming the world's first post-capitalist ready state.

By post-capitalist ready we mean a state that has created the intitial conditions for an organic and orgoing evolution towards our imagined international commune of societies of 2117.

What is the progressive and radically transformative program that can get us there?

Here's my shot at it. It's probably not exhaustive and its certainly not meant to be overly prescriptive. It also serves as a general but adaptable template as to how other countries might seek to achieve initial condition status. Of necessity, in a condensed narrative such as this, it consists of a bullet point program. It's an ambitious program and clearly one for more than one Parliament. Obviously, as revolutionaries or (r)evolutionaries, that sense of urgency is always contending with our patience and sooner is better. Some of these policies are also more immediately urgent than others, but, if we are do do things right and take people with us, then achieving this program in full over three independence parliaments, say by 2038, 10 years before the 200th anniversary of the publication of The Communist Manifesto, and fifteen years or so years after independence is initiated, would be a huge and lasting achievement.

• Democratic Public Ownership, using various competing models, of key utilities, finance, production and distribution networks – including energy exploration and supply, banking and finance, public transport, water, telecommunications and digital communications, engineering and construction. This would be a program that would have to be implemented over more than one Parliament, in all probability. Part stakes in industries and sectors can be taken initially and then expanded, and costs kept as low as possible using a combination long term bond schemes and windfall offset financing.


• Reversal and cancellation of all PPP/PFI schemes on a minimum possible compensation basis and a return of all assets in health, education and elsewhere to full democratic NHS or local authority control


• A democratically elected and accountable Public Ownership Commission to sit in permanent session tasked with reviewing the efficiency and contribution of publicly owned industries to the Common Weal, and with making recommendations to Government on the expansion of public, social and common ownership within the economy.


• The setting up of a bespoke nationalised pharmaceutical and biogenetics company to provide generic and new drugs and gene therapy CRISP(R) based treatments to the Scottish NHS on a not-for-profit basis.


• Abolition of the monarchy and all feudal title and privilege. Creation of a modern democratic republic with an elected ceremonial Head of State. Scotland's feudal estates and privately owned wild lands to be owned and administered for the Common Weal, either through national public ownership via an expanded and democratised Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish National Trust, or though community ownership and buy out within a regulatory framework that supports common weal practices and aims.


• Community and social enterprise buy-out schemes to be developed and extended to urban areas and farm lands


• The setting up of a sovereign oil and gas fund, with mass democratic oversight and control


• The setting up of a Scottish Public Patenting Fund to drive new technology research and ensure it contributes to the national Common Weal, financially, technologically, socially and ethically.


• A progressive and redistributionary taxation system, and the effective abolition of tax avoidance through a simplified and transparent tax system, to reduce the income gap and maximise tax take for social and productive reinvestment.


• The introduction of a Universal Basic Citizen's Income as of right, to replace large parts of the welfare state, tax credits and, where necessary, part of tax allowances, index linked to inflation and set initially at a level not less than the current higher rate of Employment Support Allowance. Housing benefit to continue to be paid additionally and separately on the basis of need. To be introduced alonngside a legally binding National Living Wage.


• Education, social and health services to be free at the point of need and paid for through general taxation. No private sector queue jumping and privileges for wealthy elites


• Maximum devolution of democracy though a massive expansion of local democracy. Strategic local authorities to be reduced from 32 to 16 but to be given massively enhanced powers and responsibilities, including powers of fiscal competence to borrow within agreed limits for structural, capital and social investment. Cantons of 8-10,000 electors within each authority to be created, given a percentage of the annual budget to spend, and run by a combination of mass direct democracy, elected councillors and jury type selection by lot.


• Radical reform of local government financing to raise extra money and promote taxation fairness; scrap the council tax and local business rates and replace with an income based Scottish Service Tax and a Land Value Tax respectively. Give cantons the right to raise local tourist taxes for special projects.


• A huge expansion of quality affordable social housing for rent, to be administered municipally.


• A single fully funded, comprehensive and secular education system, with an end to segregation of Scottish school pupils based on their parents' religion. Educational methodology to cease being a political football - with a permanent Education Commission composed of teachers, university specialists and neuroscientists replacing all current quangos and tasked with ensuring and monitoring the best, empirically verified, age appropriate teaching practice at each stage of education, commensurate with the values of humanity, dignity, excellence and the Common Weal.


• An ongoing expansion of mass direct democracy through the use of referenda and digital voting at national, regional and canton level. An elected Democracy Commission to be elected to oversee the process, and ensure democratic fairness, and factual information availability in all referenda and democratic elections.


• Gender balance at parliamentary and other elected levels of society to be achieved through constitutional electoral pairing,


• All elected politicians and officials to receive no more than the average income of a skilled professional worker in renumeration, with agreed bonuses for taking on ministerial, portfolio, chair or other additional responsibilities, and fully audited expenses. All officials to be recallable from post between elections if impeachable legal proceedings are laid against them, or more than 50% of their electorate signs a legal petition to that effect.


• An elected Technology and Infrastructure Commission, advised by technical and scientific staff, to sit permanently and progress and advise on capital projects and the development of the country's science and technological base, with a view to making Scotland a world leader in technological, science and infrastructure innovation and implementation.


• A renewables only domestic energy policy and an ongoing and deep commitment to environmentalism, and meeting Scotland's international moral and legal obligations in combatting climate change


• No membership of international institutions that promote neo-liberalism and capitalism, or membership of imperialist or first strike nuclear alliances such as NATO. Scotland to play its full part in solidarity with other nations seeking to become post-capitalist ready, and with working and oppressed people across the globe, to take as full a part as possible in international science and space exploration, and to take its seat in its own right at the United Nations.

(More detail on the idea of a public patenting fund can be found here, on gender balance and Constitutional Elected Pairing here and on the idea of windfall offset financing at http://thepointhowever.org/index.php/the-big-idea/87-reversing-privatisation-and-pfi )

Why capitalism's jecket is oan a shoogly peg....

The chances are that if you are reading this article you may already not need a great deal of convincing that capitalism isn't the unalloyed wealth creating dynamic and natural system of human existence that its ideologues and supporters pretend that it is. You may however, want some convincing that we have now entered a qualitatively different period in capitalism's growth, development and historyy that means it is this era and these coming generations that have the best chance of 'getting rid of it and replacing it with something nicer'. Or maybe you aren't a habitual reader of left wing sites and have come across this and need a bit of pointer as to why - as we Scots might say 'capitalism's jecket is oan a shoogly peg'

There are three basic things to grasp - all rooted in hard economic reality - that lead myself, other commentators and a growning number of people world wide to conclude that, if there is a future 'it can't be capitalism' - to paraphrase the author of Postcapitalism, Paul Mason.

These are 1) Marx's investigation into the labour theory of value and the capitalist mode of production which concludes with iron logic that capitalists must invest to compete and that the result of so doing must inevitably lead to a fall in the average rate of profit and a general contraction of the productive forces - an economic dip, recession or depression. 2) the Long Wave theory of capitalist cycles first developed by the dissident Soviet economist, Kondratieff. And 3) the huge developments in new technologies - automation, Artificial intelligence, digital and social media, genetics and nanotechnology that could mean vast developments in productivity and (potentially) material well being, but will inevitably see a hollowing out of the workforce i.e. less living breathing workers will be needed to produce and distribute goods and run society. 

(Some capitalists themselves realise this - and that's why some support the idea of a Universal Basic income)

Postcapitalism

It has been often remarked that Mason's Postcapitalism is brilliant on its analysis of the flaws of capitalism, past, present and to come, but light - even vague - on what the hell should replace it. You can, if you like, view this whole essay as an attempt to rectify that lack of a visionary plan. But the necessarily brief analysis of the 'shoogly peg' here, supplemented by our further reading suggestions, draws heavily on the economic arguments of Paul Mason, and very heavily on Marx's key insight into the central flaw within the capitalist mode of production - the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, which Mason brilliantly synthesises in his book.

Basically, its a perfect storm argument, and we see it being played out all around us in daily reality.

The driver of capitalist investment is the rate of profit. As an average, while the mass of profit and rate of profit has increased for this or that company or this or that branch of production, the average rate of profit on a global scale has been showing a tendency to decrease for quite some time. Capitalism in our era developed three strategies to counter this and implemented them through it's political representatives in the ruling elites. these mutually supporting strategies were neo-liberalism, globalisation and the creation of easy credit to encourage more buying of products in domestic markets where buying power was curtailed due to neo-liberal policies (Yes, capitaliism is that self contradictory and crazy!)

These strategies began to reach their limitations in the mid-noughties. The result was the financial crash of 2007-2008 and the Great Recession of 2008 -2013. Capitalism's response to that crisis internationally - with this or that variation, was to use public money to bail out the banks, essentially privatising the profits and nationalising the losses, and then to pass the costs onto the working class (the 99%) via austerity, cutting wages in real terms and cutting the social wage previously won in the post war period, in terms of welfare, publlic services, health, housing and social care.

However, that was like a drug that bought a temporary respite but did nothing to treat or deal with the underlying weaknesses within the system. Meanwhile new technologies - we have listed them above - have continued to develop apace, both through the natural process of research and through capitalist companies seeking a rate of profit advantage over their competitors. In order to to try to develop a healthier rate of profit, or even arrest and stabilise the current trend to decline, capitalists are forced to invest in these new technologies - but here's the critical contradiction that now exists to a qualitatively different degree than it ever did before at any time in the history of capitalism, and which may herald the final wave in the long wave cycle. The very technologies that capitalists are forced to invest in now to compete for market share and with each other are the technologies that will also inevitably reduce the rate of profit as an average, leading to further deep crises within the system, and do so with a rapidity and profound reach never before seen.

This is because the new technologies of the digital age - automation, AI, micro 3-d printing, nanotechnology - mean less and less workers involved in the production of those very commodities. Mor and more machines build the machines...and even build the machines that build the machines. Hopefully you get the picture! Less living labour compared to constant capital - machines - means an inevitable fall in the average rate of profit, because, as Marxist economics, based on the labour theory of value, shows with mathematical pinpoint accuracy, real, living labour power, and its exploitation is, in the final analysis, the sole source of profit.

Consequently, all capitalism has in store is more system crashes, more failures, more austerity, more band aids, more triage - accompanied by some tech pyrotechnics and individual success and excess to be sure. But all capitalism can offer the 99% from here on in is anarchy and a knife's edge; lower living and social standards than were enjoyed by previous generations, and a complete inability to solve the most fundamental problems facing the planet - global warming, growing inequality and wasteful bloody wars.

And that's the other set of futures that await us if we don't unite now and bring this rotten system to an end.

(Bruce Wallace's excellent outline of the centrality of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall can be found here and here, Adrian Cruden's excellent article on AI here, and the first part of my review which outlines Kondratieff's Long Wave theory here )

What might divide us and what unites us - haw hums and caveats

"No oath or bond is laid upon you to go further than you will..."

 

I do not expect a single reader to agree with evey single thing I say - down that road lies hubris. But I hope a lot of you will agree with a lot of what I have said here, and that all of you will agree with at least some of it.

This is very important because if the left - in Scotland, the rest of these Isles, and internationally - is to make our new society real, then it cannot do so on the basis of endless organisational and political division. Some form of organisational unity and unity of political purpose will be required. However, that doesn't necessarily mean we give up our own long cherished beliefs or parties or issues we believe in. It does mean we broadly agree a direction of march and a basic program and goals within that paradigm of broader diversity. Quite how this is done both electorally and in terms of a wider social campaigning movement is properly a bigger discussion in another article - or many other articles.

I hope you will agree that I have proposed reasonable timescales to measure our degree of success in - without dogmatically insisting they be set in stone. An independent Scotland by the 2020's, the first post capitalist ready nations and societies appearing by 2038 after a massive political project, the ongoing development of that project and its material and democratic bases across the planet through 2048 and 2058 (three lifetimes since the publication of The Communist Manifesto), and the full flowering of our international commune of post-scarcity, post capitalist, mass democratic and materially and culturally superabundant societies by 2117.

The knowledgeable reader will also have noticed that I have proposed a non-Leninist prospectus for revolution, though, again I do not want to set up any false antinomies or dichotomies where none need exist. This is not a reformist program, Reformism stops at reforms within the capitalist system. This manifesto for change does precisely the opposite. It sets up a radical series of reforms as initial conditons to allow us then to proceed beyond capitalism and its limits organically. As I hope I have made abundantly clear, by organically I don't mean that anything will just happen automatically or ahistorically. It is mass democracy and mass struggle allied to the goal and the plan, and the ultimately fatal contradictions within modern capitalism itself, that will develop our hard won initial conditions into our fully fledged vision of tomorrow. On a world scale the movement will inevitably be both an evolutionary and revolutionary one, which is why, throughout this article I have used the term (r)evolutionary. 

Revolutionaries and Leninists and their parties, however, are welcome to join us on the path. I have no doubt they have a part to play, and, as Elrond says to the nine walkers of The Fellowship of The Ring "no oath or bond is laid upon you to go farther than you will..."

By the time we reach this point there will also be a number of haw-hums reverberating out there in cyberspace. That's fine - new ideas and concepts take time to find general acceptance. but let me deal with a couple of obvious ones very briefly right now.

Q. What about the Marxist theory of the state?

A.  It's absolutely true that we can't just lay hold of the old apparatus of state and make it work for us. But that's not what we have proposed if you think it is you maybe need to read this again. And doing away with the old apparatus doesn't automatically mean violent suppressions, terrors and civil wars. Any revolution, or (r)evolution, has an absolute moral right to defend itself against counter revolutionary or fascist violence. But we should avoid that route if we can. Civil wars and mass violence merely destroys and degrades the very material bases on which we hope to build a new society, creates negative narratives and barriers to mass support for change, and leaves socialists playing productive catch up

Q. Why do use the language of complexity theory at times in this narrative rather than the traditional language of socialism and Marxism?

A. Stylistically the traditional language can be a bit of a sleep inducer if you are trying to reach a wider and newer audience, and importantly complexity theory has a role to play in helping our new society achieve open ended and dynamic systems that. For this, mathematically sound models such as complexity theory might prove to be more useful than rule of thumb materialist dialectics - which are open to misuse, as history has already shown us.

But I leave the anticipatory FAQ's there. Doubtless other things will arise in the course of many discussions.  There is nothing wrong with doubts and questions. They are part of healthy discourse, but I hope that in the course of my narrative I have at least sown the neural seeds whereby, at some point in the future, you are able to answer many of them for yourselves. 

Conclusion

Just as independence for Scotland is not merely a worthy democratic end in and of itself, but also a means to a higer end - a better, more socially just, progressive Scotland, socialism is not just an end in itself, but a means to a higher end: the genuine liberation of every single human being to live their lives fully and freely, and to realise their full potential. The word 'freedom' is often used by represenatives of the 1% to attack we discontents and malcontents of the left, but in reality their freedom is the freedom of the 1% at the expense of the freedom of others, who are left and consoled only with freedom's pretend shadows.

As socialists we don't proclaim the liberatory aspects of our own ideology often enough, perhaps because we realise that true freedom for all - the 100% - can only come through collective action and sacrifice which means, more than occasionally, putting our own selfish interests and lives to one side.

It is with that thought - the multiply and infinitely thirled dialectic of personal freedom and collective action that I leave you. At the end - and in keeping with the digital nature of this 21st century manifesto for a newer, better world - I give you the youtube finale of the movie Tommorowland. For some bread and water diehards that may seem a little sentimental - but I think its Blakesian imagery is a powerful evocation of collective action to build a thousand new 'Jerusalems', and its optimism always brings a wee tear to my eye.

Before then, from the great Scottish socialist, independence supporter, republican, poet, songwriter and champion of the disposssed, Hamish Henderson, a cry and an appeal and a reclaiming of a word, to resonate hopefully, from these small beginings, across the globe, to the 99%, and all of those who want to struggle for our imagined 2117. 

 

Vengan juntos, todos ustedes en casa con libertad!

 

تعال معا، كل واحد منكم في المنزل مع الحرية!

 

Njoo pamoja, ninyi nyote nyumbani na uhuru!

 

Venez ensemble, vous tous à la maison avec la liberté!

 

Kommt zusammen, ihr alle zu Hause mit Freiheit!

 

走到一起,你们所有人都在自由的家!

 

Venha juntos, todos vocês em casa com liberdade!

 

Приходите вместе, все вы дома со свободой!

 

Come all ye, at hame wi’ Freedom!

 

 

 

 

Steve Arnott, 8th December, 2017

 

Appendix 1

I was only able to briefly touch on the potentials of biogenetic technologies such as gene editing in the article above. To be honest it would have been a potential distraction to do otherwise, and the matter requires an article itself to do it full justice. One will be forthcoming from me in due course over the next six months or so, and I will link it into this article at that point.

However, these technologies are in an increasingly advanced state of development and there is an urgency to the discussion abut how they should be used and regulated. So, in the meantime here’s a longish post I wrote for The Point Facebook page a few months back on the occasion of the latest announcement of a breakthrough in the CRISP(R) gene editing technique. It’ll give you a sense of where I stand on the issue and where I feel the left needs to stand on the issue.

The ‘six golden rules of gene editing’ part of this was also published in letter form in Scotland’s National newspaper.

“THE FUTURE IS HERE. IS THIS THE DAY EVERYTHING CHANGES?

This is a post about science, ethics and politics…and maybe outside your normal interests, or the normal purview of your online group. We hope you read it, and/or your admins will allow it anyway – because this is something that WILL, inevitably, affect you and your family over the next five, ten or twenty years. This could be the most important post you ever read.

We draw your attention to the ‘six golden rules’ of gene editing suggested below, in particular.

These were first outlined by Steve Arnott of The Point Online Platform over two years ago, as basic ethical and progressive guidelines for the use of gene editing/genetic modification science.

Gene editing technology should be broadly welcomed. This particular latest breakthrough - which the majority of mainstream media hasn't picked up on, or perhaps not understood the importance of - should also be welcomed, and was inevitable. Technologies and science can’t be un-invented – but they can either be used responsibly for the collective benefit of all humankind, or misused terribly to the detriment of us all.

First of all, there is a class and public ownership issue here. We should ensure that as many gene editing patents as possible are held by the state on behalf of the public, rather than by corporations for private shareholders and private profit, and that germ line modification to prevent debilitating genetic conditions, diseases, and pre-dispositions to diseases, is available to all who want it equally, free at the point of need, as soon as possible.

Think of the tremendous suffering prevented, and the long term savings to the NHS and public health as whole ranges of genetically based or chromosomally based conditions largely become things of the past. Efficacious, reliable and lasting treatments for cancer are now realistically in middle distance sight, thanks to the possibilities of gene based therapies.

This latest breakthrough, which would allow for accurate diagnosis and gene editing of embryos at a very early stage, has the potential to make many tragic illnesses and premature deaths a thing of the past. There is of course a way to go in the development and implementation of these technologies, but we need to start arguing that the progressive left should take a humanistic, pragmatic and pro-science position.

The 'playing God' moralisers and Frankenstein complex Luddites - the same usual suspects who opposed IVF, Stem cell research and virtually every medical breakthrough in recent years - should be resisted over this issue. (Mr & Mrs Misinformed have already written to your local paper complaining about scientists ‘playing God’, and the Daily Mail managed to misconstrue this news, and what scientists have said about it, as ‘scientists call for ban on designer babies’ a patently untrue fabrication of The Mail’s febrile right wing imagination). We can expect much more of such reactionary moral panic nonsense.

There can be no doubt however, that there are genuine ethical and scientific considerations that must be debated and thought through here.

If we want to harness these new life sciences technologies to the full benefit of all humankind, yet avoid a society where the wealthy are gene enhancement rich and their kids get ever smarter, and the poor and ordinary working families fall further and further behind, we need to be talking about this. We need regulation that reassures people that the horror of right wing Nazi racial eugenics is not waiting just around the corner. But we also need to ensure that irrational fears don’t inhibit the development of technologies that could be of immense medical and social long term benefit.

The progressive view should surely be that once the technology is in medical use and the public can see and understand the benefits of that, we should then carefully move to a position where parents SHOULD be able to use genetic editing to improve non-cosmetic aspects of their child's genetic heritage, if they so choose. This would/should allow for increases in intelligence, emotional empathy for others, energy levels and drive, but be illegal for sexual selection, or selection of racial or sexual orientation characteristics, as well as trivial things like eye colour, height, hair colour etc.

The Point’s resident science writer Steve Arnott has suggested 6 international principles to guide the use of this revolutionary technology:

1) The Precautionary Principle - all genetic edits are thoroughly tested and monitored to a high and agreed international scientific standard before becoming available for general use

2) The Universal Principle - these techniques should be available to all through public health systems and government sponsored medical research with public return (for instance as in the suggestion here* for a Scottish Public Patenting Fund), free at the point of need or delivery, regardless of ability to pay.

3) The Voluntary Principle - all genetic modification is parent/physician led, voluntary not mandatory, and society respects those who - for whatever reason - do not wish to undergo gene related therapeutic treatments, or their children to be gene edited or enhanced.

4) The Anonymity/Equality Principle - children born enhanced and unenhanced are indistinguishable in the eyes of the law and the state. No public record is kept, other than general statistical information. It must be illegal to discriminate in any way between enhanced and unenhanced children.

5) The Compassion Principle - persons have rights; diseases and debilitating impairments and conditions have not. It is the latter we are looking to eventually wipe out, not the former. Society must continue to treat people with illnesses and conditions as people of worth and respect, ensure their care is properly resourced, and their full range of human rights properly respected

6) The Genetic Diversity Within a Paradigm of Genetic Equality Principle – Yes to gene therapies and early embryo medical interventions, yes to properly thought through and tested voluntary enhancements of the various intelligences, emotional empathy, and general health and well being. No to selection or enhancement on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, religiosity, increased sporting or military prowess, or secondary features such as height, eye colour, hair colour etc.

There needs to be a diversity protocol that ensures that while gene editing can improve human well being and the genetic equality thereof across the species, there is a fundamental ‘diversity of genome’ line that is not crossed.

Provided we bear those fundamental principles in mind, and enshrine them in law both nationally and internationally, these new biogenetic and gene editing technologies are something that could be of huge benefit to humankind - to all of us - both as individuals, and as a species.

The left needs to embrace the powerful progressive potential of this breakthrough, and steer it in a direction that helps transform society and humankind for the better - not a future where the wealthy can enhance their own children, and the poor have a new injustice to deal with on top of those they already face - that of massive genetic and health inequality.”

 

Appendix 2

(and purely for the theory heads...)

Definition of species

noun (plural ) 

    ·                     1(abbreviation: sp., spp.)Biology a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. The species is the principal natural                              taxonomic unit, ranking below a genus and denoted by a Latin binomial, e.g. Homo sapiens.

Definition of being

noun 

   ·                     1 [mass noun] existence: the railway brought many towns into being the single market came into being in 1993

    ·                     being alive; living: holism promotes a unified way of being

   ·                     2 [in singular] the nature or essence of a person: sometimes one aspect of our being has been developed at the expense of the others

    ·                     3 a real or imaginary living creature or entity, especially an intelligent one:  alien beings, a rational being

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marx's_theory_of_alienation

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marx's_theory_of_human_nature

 http://internationalist-perspective.org/IP/ip-archive/ip_43_species-being.html

 http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20008832?uid=3738032&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21100909174821

 

 

 

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left

Greenpeace

The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books

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