Monday, June 17, 2019

North London Branch Meeting (20/6)

Thursday, June 20 at
Torriano Meeting House, 
99 Torriano Avenue, 

The Socialist Party possesses eloquent speakers, erudite writers, skilled debaters and dogged fighters for working class interests. Unlike those on the left wing, the Socialist Party are not moralisers and it is no part of our case to suggest that the capitalist class are simply greedy or selfish people. We do not condemn capitalists as individuals, we condemn capitalism as a social system. Nor is that condemnation based simply on the facts of capitalism's miseries—its poverty amid abundance, its degradation of human life, the waste of its wars, crises and all its other social failings. Our condemnation is based on the fact that capitalism has long since outlived its usefulness as a means of developing society’s productive resources and now only blocks the way of a sane alternative that can provide the material basis of a full and happy life for all mankind. Further we say that capitalism exists today simply and solely because you and your fellow-workers, who produce its wealth and suffer its pains, permit it to exist. Everybody could live in a co-operative commonwealth producing everything for the requirements of one's own family and the wider human family, freed from capitalism’s buying-and-selling, and living is a society where we can produce sufficient to satisfy the all the needs of all and where we would have free and equal access to the fruits of such production.

A staggering proposition and conditioned as you presently are, you are as staggered as were those who once thought they lived on a flat earth when first told they lived on a globe! You can accept that members of the working class can run this society from top to bottom, can even formulate the tremendous mathematical data and know-how to build a computer or send a man into space and yet you are staggered by the simple proposition that mankind can own in common the resources of our planet and can use those resources to provide for everyone's needs without markets, prices, money and all the other superfluous waste of capitalism.

The capitalist system has both demonstrated the technical and productive potential of socialism and at the same time provided us with ample evidence that it cannot be operated in the interests of society as a whole.

Socialism is a feasible proposition NOW! Its introduction is delayed not by the capitalist class but by the working class: it is your ignorance that prevails against it; your reluctance to look beyond the narrow limits of capitalism that keeps that system in operation; your vote at every election gives it legitimacy and legality.

Join with us now in the Socialist Party and ensure that there is a socialist organisation sufficiently strong locally to challenge the parties of capitalism at the ballot box.

World Day to Combat Desertification

World Day to Combat Desertification is celebrated every year in every country on Jun. 17 to promote good land stewardship for the benefit of present and future generations.

Think about what it takes to feed 7.5 billion people. Only 20 percent of the planet is habitable, yet within our own lifetimes one out of every four hectares of productive land has become unusable, three out of every four hectares have been altered from their natural state, and while agriculture drives that change, we waste a third of the food,” said head of the UNCCD Ibrahim Thiaw who added, increasing food production by 50 percent, when land degradation and climate change will be decreasing crop yields by 50 percent, makes restoring and protecting the fragile layer of land an issue for “anyone who wants to eat, drink or breathe.” 

UNCCD-Science Policy Interface co-chair Dr. Mariam Akhtar-Schuster, explained, The main message is: things are not improving. The issue of desertification is becoming clearer to different communities, but we now have to start implementing the knowledge that we already have to combat desertification. It’s not only technology that we have to implement, it is the policy level that has to develop a governance structure which supports sustainable land management practices...On all continents you have the issue of land degradation, so there’s no continent, there’s no country which can just lean back and say this is not our issue. Everybody has to do something...There is no top-down approach. You need the people on the ground, you need the people who generate knowledge and you need the policy makers to implement that knowledge. You need everybody. Nobody in a community, in a social environment, can say this has nothing to do with me. We are all consumers of products which are generated from land. So, we in our daily lives – the way we eat, the way we dress ourselves – whatever we do has something to do with land, and we can take decisions which are more friendly to land than what we’re doing at the moment.”

75 percent of the land area is very significantly altered, 66 percent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts, and 85 percent of the wetland area has been lost.

UNCCD Lead Scientist Dr. Barron Joseph Orr said,We’ve got a situation where 75 percent of the land surface of the earth has been transformed, and the demand for food is only going to go up between now and 2050 with the population growth expected to increase one to two billion people. That’s a significant jump. Our demand for energy that’s drawn from land, bio energy, or the need for land for solar and wind energy is only going to increase but these studies are making it clear that we are not optimising our use.” He added, “We need better incentives for our farmers and ranchers to do the right thing on the landscape, we have to have stronger safeguards for tenures so that future generations can continue that stewardship of the land,” he added. 

Socialism has become discredited in the view of many environmentalists who argue that socialism is fundamentally anti-ecological, high-lighting the destructive ecological actions of “workers'” states like the Soviet Union and its satellites. For socialists, society’s productive forces is the material basis for social progress and higher level of development is critical to build world socialism. To many environmentalists, however, this overly concern with expanding production is at the expense of ecological considerations. Ecologists must face the reality that much of the world does need higher levels of consumption. Billions of people in the world need, in order to have better lives, secure food and water, decent housing, improved transport and communications infrastructure, and health services. But there would also be more parks and gathering spaces that facilitate community interaction. If people have no secure means of subsistence to live, they will survive as best they can using what means are available to them, which tend to be highly destructive to their eco-systems. Millions of people still use wood for heating and cooking. India alone has millions who live without access to electricity. Poverty is a major part of the reason there is so much deforestation in India, Africa, and parts of Asia. Renewable electricity provision for the entire planet — and the eradication of poverty — would have to be part of any move to living sustainably with the Earth. In order to solve the global ecological crisis, we must undertake an enormous transfer of resources to the poor and offer a comfortable life to the billions of people from whom capitalism have left in misery. The only way to develop human potential and generate a healthier planet is through a developing the productive forces of society. A democratically planned and ecologically rational society will be able to overcome the ways in which capitalism is holding us back from producing more efficiently and sustainably. All these transformations in production and the rational allocation of resources are possible with technologies that exist now, but capitalism’s drive for profit holds us back from implementing them.

Understanding capitalism is essential to address the environmental crisis. An ecologically benign society is incompatible with capitalism. The reason, why capitalism is eco-destructive is its need to grow endlessly. Production is not geared to satisfy need, but instead to produce profit. Capitalists produce with the hope of gaining as large a share of the market as possible. This leads to shattered lives, unemployment, disease and violence. The relationship towards nature that socialists advocates is one that restores us to nature. In an ecologically sustainable society, the means of production and distribution would be democratically controlled and organised to provide the greatest possible social benefit, which would entail ecological sustainability. Because the economy would be structured to further the development of human potential, technological advances in production would be used to shorten work hours rather than to produce more, leading to more free time to do truly fulfilling activities and allow us greater variety in how we spend our lives. A sustainable and just society would be a more efficient way to fulfill people’s needs. Work would be structured in ways that allow people to feel a closer connection with the production of food and resources. A socialist society would offer the freedom to live rewarding lives less centered around consumption. 

Certainly there would be changes in what people consume in a sustainable society — an ecologically sound agricultural system would probably rear less meat and grow less out-of-season produce — but this would occur because of a change in production in context of revolutionary liberation leading to a better life. Overall, such an agricultural system would supply healthier, more nutritious and better-tasting food), so it would not be experienced as a sacrifice. With the establishment of socialism, a democratic, planned use of resources goods and services could be produced in different, more efficient and environmentally sound ways reducing the ecological footprint. A sustainable society and a socialist society are inseparable.

Infant mortality rates rises

Infant mortality rates in England and Wales have risen for the third year in a row with families in the poorest communities worst affected, official data shows.

Between 2016 and 2017 the infant mortality rate rose from 3.8 deaths per 1,000 births, to 3.9 per 1,000, data from the Office of National Statistics shows.

This means the infant mortality rate has risen "significantly" since it hit a record low in 2014, and in the most deprived communities it stands as high as 5.2 deaths per 1,000.
“The infant mortality rate had been reducing since the 1980s, but since an all-time low in 2014 the rate has increased every year between 2014 to 2017," said Vasita Patel, from the ONS Vital Statistics Outputs Branch.

Mortality rates are split across socioeconomic lines, with the lowest mortality in the least deprived areas and to parents in professional or managerial roles. It was highest among families who work in routine or manual jobs, although both sets of workers have seen mortality rise since 2014.

The latest rises suggest the long term decline established over decades of improving health care and midwifery may have come to a halt.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP, said. “Ministers can’t ignore the fundamental truth that rising child poverty, deprivation and severe inequality betray our children and worsen health outcomes"

Plastic Profiteers

187 countries signed a treaty giving nations the power to block the import of contaminated or hard-to-recycle plastic trash. A few countries did not sign. One was the US. Last year, the equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers of American plastic recycling were exported from the US to some of the world’s poorest countries, including Bangladesh, Laos, Ethiopia and Senegal, offering cheap labor and limited environmental regulation. America alone generates 34.5m tons of plastic waste each year

Of the 9% of America’s plastic that the Environmental Protection Agency estimated was recycled in 2015, China and Hong Kong handled more than half: about 1.6m tons of the plastic recycling every year. They have developed a vast industry of harvesting and reusing the most valuable plastics to make products that could be sold back to the western world. Amid growing environmental and health fears, China shut its doors to all but the cleanest plastics in late 2017. America is still shipping more than 1m tons a year of its plastic waste overseas.

People don’t know what’s happening to their trash,” said Andrew Spicer, who teaches corporate social responsibility at the University of South Carolina and sits on his state’s recycling advisory board. “They think they’re saving the world. But the international recycling business sees it as a way of making money. There have been no global regulations – just a long, dirty market that allows some companies to take advantage of a world without rules.”

A study led by the University of Georgia researcher Jenna Jambeck found that Malaysia, the biggest recipient of US plastic recycling since the China ban, mismanaged 55% of its own plastic waste, meaning it was dumped or inadequately disposed of at sites such as open landfills. Indonesia and Vietnam improperly managed 81% and 86%, respectively. In 2018, the US sent 83,000 tons of plastic recycling to Vietnam. In the Philippines, about 120 shipping containers a month are arriving in Manila and an industrial zone in the former US military base at Subic Bay. Records indicate they were filled with plastic scrap shipped from such places as Los Angeles, Georgia and the Port of New York-Newark. From the Manila port, shipping records and Philippines customs documents show, some of the US plastic was transported to Valenzuela City. The area, on the outskirts of the Philippine capital, is known as “Plastic City” and residents are increasingly concerned about the number of processing factories sprouting in their midst. Since China closed its doors, the amount of plastic recycling Turkey takes in from abroad has soared, from 159,000 to 439,000 tons in two years. Each month, about 10 ships pull into the ports of Istanbul and Adana, carrying about 2,000 tons of cheap US scrap plastic that is no longer wanted by China. Most of it comes from the ports of Georgia, Charleston, Baltimore and New York. There are 500,000 street collectors in Turkey, working almost like ants to collect the waste,” said Baran Bozoğlu, head of Turkey’s Chamber of Environmental Engineers. Yet he said the “uncontrolled and unlimited” import of foreign recycling was leaving these local recyclers without markets for the scrap they collect. “It’s like we have flour and water and, instead of making our own bread, we import bread from abroad! Does that make any sense to you?’

Scrap-picker Eser Çağlayan, explains, ‘‘I want to tell people in US this: recycle in your own yard,” he said. “Don’t bring down our income and put us all in danger of hunger.’’

Jan Dell, an independent engineer for the organization The Last Beach Cleanup works with investors and environmental groups to reduce plastic pollution explained “The path of least resistance is to put it on a ship and send it somewhere else – and the ships are going further and further to find some place to put it,” she said.

As countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand banned imports, records show the plastic waste fanning out to a host of new countries. Shipments began making their way to Cambodia, Laos, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya and Senegal, which had previously handled virtually no US plastic. In the first 10 months of 2018, the US exported 192,000 metric tons of plastic waste to Malaysia for recycling. Each month throughout the second half of 2018, container ships ferried about 260 tons of US plastic scrap into the Cambodian seaside town of Sihanoukville. No one interviewed in Sihanoukville had any idea that plastic recycling was being exported from the United States, and what happened to the plastic after it arrived is unclear.

Waste plastic is a commodity, and recycling brokers search across the US and abroad for buyers who will want to melt the plastic down, turn it into pellets, and make those pellets into something new. Through a trading network that crosses oceans and traverses continents. It’s a network that is complex, at times nefarious, and in which few consumers understand their role. Now, that network is at a breaking point. Plastic’s first stop on its months-long journey is a recycling facility where it is sorted into bales based on its type – soda bottles, milk jugs and clamshell-style containers, for instance, are all made of subtly different kinds – and readied for sale. Traders might spend $150 to buy a ton of plastic scrap from a US recycler. Once it is shipped abroad, sold to a processor, turned into pellets and then again shipped to a manufacturer, the seller might ask as much as $800 per ton. Yet the cost of similar virgin plastic, which is often higher quality, is just $900 to $1,000 a ton.

Steve Wong, a Hong Kong-based businessman, is one of the middlemen who connects your recycling with international buyers. “At one time, I was one of the biggest exporters in the world,” he said, worth millions. Now, Wong said, his company, the Hong-Kong based Fukutomi Recycling, was deep in debt. Wong’s problem is hardly a lack of supply. Each month the equivalent of thousands of shipping containers worth of recyclable plastics, which used to be exported, are piling up all over the United States. Nor is his worry a shortage of demand for plastic. It is desperately needed by factories in China for manufacturing into myriad new products – from toys and picture frames to garden gazebos.
What is nearly killing his business is the fact that many countries have soured on the recycling industry, after unscrupulous operators set up shop, operating as cheaply as possible, with no regard for the environment or local residents.
In our industry, if you do it properly, you save the environment,” Wong said. “If you do it improperly, you destroy the environment.”

A study released this spring by the environmental group Gaia documented the human toll of US plastics exports on the countries that receive them.
The impact of the shift in plastic trade to south-east Asian countries has been staggering – contaminated water supplies, crop death, respiratory illness from exposure to burning plastic, and the rise of organized crime abound in areas most exposed to the flood of new imports,” the report found. These countries and their people are shouldering the economic, social and environmental costs of that pollution, possibly for generations to come.”

Refugee Week - World Socialism - World Solidarity

The UK signed the 1951 Convention on Refugees, which states that anyone has the right to apply for asylum in Britain and remain until a final decision on their application has been made.

An asylum seeker is someone who is fleeing persecution in their homeland, has arrived in another country, made themselves known to the authorities and exercised the legal right to apply for asylum. A refugee is someone whose asylum application is successful and is allowed to stay in the host country. A refused asylum seeker is someone who has had their application turned down and is awaiting return to their home country. It may be unsafe to return and therefore be some time before they can.

The UK is not the soft-touch for asylum seekers that politicians try to make out. Asylum seekers are not here just to take advantage of the benefit system. That is a myth put about by politicians. The UK immigration system is extremely tough. The reason the UK is a popular destination is due to many family/friend connections (from the days of Empire and Commonwealth) and also the world-wide adoption of the use of English as a second language.

People living in other countries which are not the land of their birth are now accustomed to insults like "parasite" or " scrounger" and xenophobia is on the rise. "Patriots" are quick to say that “foreigners" have come to take over "their" country, "their" resources, "their" jobs, "their" culture, and so on. In order to ward off unrest and discontent, various tactics are employed by governments. One of them is to create divisions among the suffering and deprived by blaming it on foreigners and whipping up nationalistic feelings. This diverts attention from misrule and mismanagement. In response to campaigns of misinformation and outright lies, people are taken in by the government's ploy. Now, since a hungry person is an angry person and since anger is emotional and over-powers reason, the least provocation can result in misdirected violence vented against vulnerable fellow citizens or be turned loose on the refugees and migrants. 

This is the real cause of xenophobia - the rich pitting the poor against the poor. Our ruling class open a Pandora's Box of nationalist rhetoric and allows space to open up for groups and individuals influenced by fascist and racist ideology. 

The Socialist Party does not speak of “we” and “us" in relation to which land we just happened to have been born. The Socialist Party condemns nationalist ideas. We find such attitudes pernicious and repugnant. They are stumbling-blocks to working-class understanding of socialism. Nationalists need a scapegoat to explain the loss of what they called “national identity”. For the working class, national identity has always meant over-crowded crumbling housing schemes, insecurity, poverty and unemployment. National identity is a cunning political device by means of which the working class, who own no part of the country, are duped to identify with their exploiters, the capitalists, who own virtually everything. 

Socialism will embrace all mankind because the Earth will be owned in common. The Socialist Party stands side-by-side with our friends, work colleagues and neighbours. We will not allow a wave of xenophobic nationalism and racism to threaten our lives and well-being.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Capitalist Responsibility and Opioids

One response to the spread of opioid addiction has been a campaign of moral condemnation against the Sackler family, the “secretive family making billions from the opioid crisis.” (Glazek, Esquire, 2017) Or, to be more precise, against the main branch of the Sackler family, inasmuch as Elizabeth, daughter of the eldest of the three brothers who founded the pharmaceutical dynasty, has publicly disassociated her branch of the family from the scandal.
Sackler-owned Purdue Pharma was the first company to launch an opioid painkiller—OxyContin in 1996—and the first to capture the dominant share of the new market, accounting for over half of prescriptions by 2001. At least 100,000 people in the United States alone have died by overdosing on its drugs. Under direct pressure from the Sacklers, Purdue Pharma’s executives continued pushing OxyContin long after they became aware of its addictive properties. They even planned to make more money by treating the addicts created by their own products. The business behavior of the Sacklers has caused an enormous amount of human suffering, not only to adults but to babies already addicted in the womb.
Ample reason, you may well think, to justify moral condemnation. And yet such condemnation flouts a long-established convention by which capitalists are not held morally or legally responsible for their business behavior. They are personally answerable for any crimes they may commit in their personal capacity, but not for acts performed in the course of “doing business,” that is, while acting as capitalists.
This convention is entrenched in the legal forms of the limited liability company and in the corporation. It finds reflection in the dominant discourse concerning wealthy “philanthropists,” including, until recently, the Sacklers, who were honored for their generous donations to worthy causes but never embarrassed by questions about how their fortunes were made. Dr. Jekyll keeps Mr. Hyde well hidden in the shadows: he does not mind entreaties to “do more good” (i.e., give more money), but dislikes demands to “do less harm” (in the process of making him money).

Marx’s Torchlight

Karl Marx caught Mr. Hyde in the powerful beam of his torchlight. He broke into the “secret abode” where the capitalist “does business” and exposed its inner workings. And yet, he too is inclined to absolve the capitalist of personal responsibility. In the 1867 preface to the first German edition of Capital, Marx says that his is the theoretical approach least liable to “make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains.” He does not exclude assigning some responsibility to individuals, but not much because people are molded by the network of social relations within which they live.
A note of moral indignation does nonetheless creep into the text of Volume I of Capital as Marx documents the callous exploitation of workers—many of them, let us recall, young children—in 19th century Britain. Marx seems to question whether the capitalist is a human being at all. In Chapter 10, on the length of the working day, he identifies the capitalist with two figures borrowed from European folklore: a “werewolf hungry for surplus-labor” and a “vampire thirsty for the living blood of labor.” The Christian culture in which Marx, despite his atheism, was immersed associated the werewolf and the vampire with evil spirits and, ultimately, with the devil. At some level, I suspect, Marx viewed the capitalist’s single-minded obsession with accumulating capital (“making money”) as a variety of demonic possession.
An argument commonly made by socialists is that capitalist firms have to be ruthless in order to maximize profit and survive competition with other firms. A firm run by soft-hearted managers would be at a great disadvantage in the competitive struggle and sooner or later would be driven out of business, either through bankruptcy or a hostile takeover. Being driven out of business would not help anyone. Nor does moral condemnation serve any useful purpose. The only solution, therefore, is to abolish the whole capitalist system and to replace production for profit with production for use under democratic control.
I have often used this argument myself. I still think there is much truth in it. However, it now seems to me somewhat exaggerated and oversimplified.

Publicly Traded Versus Privately Owned

A crucial distinction needs to be made between publicly traded companies that issue stocks and shares and companies that are privately owned—often by members of a single family—and closed to outside investors. The strongest and most urgent external pressures to maximize profits and share prices come from shareholders and the capital market, and therefore affect only public companies. Private companies are immune to such pressures. This gives them some leeway that public companies lack. For example, a traditional family-owned firm may be able to avoid laying off workers when business is slack, provided that the downturn does not last too long.
This is the reason why those entrepreneurs who pursue other goals besides profit-making (they are few, but they exist) choose to create private companies. If, later on, such a company decides to go public in order to raise additional capital, the founder gradually loses control, the “other goals” fall by the wayside, and the company ends up as a “normal” capitalist enterprise.  This is the story of Anita Roddick, founder and initial head of The Body Shop (see her book Business as Unusual: The Triumph of Anita Roddick, also pp. 51-53 in Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power).
Of course, even a private company cannot give too low a priority to profit-making if it wants to remain in business. For example, a certain level of profit is indispensable in order to maintain, repair, and replace machinery and equipment. Measures are occasionally necessary to defend market shares against the inroads of a competitor. A private company, however, can generally get by for long periods without actually maximizing profit.
This takes us back to the opioid crisis.
Highly germane to the question of the moral responsibility of the Sacklers is the fact that Purdue Pharma (makers of OcyContin) is wholly owned by members of the family. It is a private company. Its managers do not have to worry about shareholders, share price, or the stock market.
Nevertheless, the company relentlessly pursued maximum profits to the exclusion of all other considerations. When it launched OxyContin it was not responding to competitive pressures because it was the first company to market an addictive painkiller. Other publicly traded companies were then compelled to respond to competitive pressure from Purdue Pharma by marketing similar drugs of their own. The Sacklers could certainly have chosen not to act as they did. Their moral responsibility is therefore indisputable.

Corporate Culture

If there were no economic pressures forcing the Sacklers to act as they did, then what can explain their behavior? Here it is helpful to bring in the concept of “corporate culture,” or perhaps “business culture.” In an interview with Paul Jay at The Real News, Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive turned whistleblower, is asked why he made no attempt at “change from within” before resigning. He replies that change from within is impossible because a company executive who even so much as raises a question of ethics is immediately dismissed. Such, he says, is the corporate culture.
Concepts of morality and humanity are utterly alien to this corporate culture. Very rarely is it a matter of ethically sensitive executives being reluctantly forced by external pressures to prioritize profits. Normally, the idea of doing anything other than prioritizing profits never enters their heads.
Corporate culture, however, does not exist in a vacuum. It is one of the means by which the capitalist system inculcates its values and outlook. It is still necessary to abolish the capitalist system.

Treat Them Humanely

Purdue Pharma, together with several other companies that have sold addictive painkillers, is now being sued for damages by public prosecutors at the municipal and state levels. (But not, thanks to Trump’s appointees, at the federal level.) Unfortunately, unless the dollar amounts involved are sufficiently large enough to cancel out accumulated profits, the risk of having to pay fines or compensation has no deterrent effect. The payments can just be written off as business expenses.
And even if Purdue Pharma is driven out of business, and even if all the Sacklers’ companies in various countries are driven out of business, the Sacklers themselves will surely find ways to preserve enough of their assets to live out the rest of their lives in luxury. However, if it turns out that I am wrong and they do end up destitute, I hope they are treated humanely: allotted places in a homeless shelter, permitted to apply for welfare for anyone else, and offered exorcism to free them of their diabolic possession. Stephen Shenfield How sane is a society that entrusts its vast technological capacity and productive power to tiny cabals of avaricious ‘werewolves and vampires’? How long is it going to be before we have finally had enough of their abuses? When are we going to bring the productive forces of society under the democratic control of society and put them to use in the public interest?