Sunday, December 16, 2018

Not a free NHS for many

Ministers are keeping secret a review that appears to expose how overseas patients are being wrongly denied NHS treatment after being told to pay upfront charges. Care has not been “safely withheld” when payment is not provided in some cases, after the controversial rules were introduced last yearThousands of people have been told to pay upfront for their treatment since the crackdown began in October last year, including hundreds for serious health problems such as cancer and heart conditions. Under the rules, patients from outside the EU are charged 50 per cent more than cost to the NHS, which means up to £15,000 for certain operations.

Professor Martin Marshall, the Royal College of General Practitioners’ vice chair, said: “We are concerned about the risk of ill patients not seeking medical care because they cannot afford treatment – something that has the potential to affect some of the most vulnerable in society.

Hospitals were ordered to demand utility bills, bank statements or payslips from patients, in order to prove their entitlement to free healthcare. Staff were given a list of 32 questions to establish likely residency, alongside guidance warning trusts could fall foul of discrimination law if they target non-white patients.

Until the next time

COP24 has ended, however, there should be no cause for rejoicing. As predicted by SOYMB blog, a statement of an agreement of sorts has been concocted, full of compromise and concessions to keep everybody satisfied but what in no way addresses the real issues on climate change. It is business as usual and all actions to avert the global warming cataclysm will be carried out within the parameters of the parasitical and predatory capitalist system that brought us to the edge of the environmental abyss. Envisioning another rational and sustainable society appears never to be a question to be asked. The "solution" is to continue down the same old path of capitalism's ceaseless and wasteful growth and expansion. It is an old trick of the politician who is covering up a retreat to make it appear to be an advance or at least a firm stand. This is done by using the old phrases but each time with a qualification that destroys their meaning. Observers at COP24 say the deal is not sufficiently strong to deal with the urgency of the climate problem. In the words of one delegate, "it's what's possible, but not what's necessary". Right now, the plans that countries lodged as part of the Paris agreement don't get anywhere near that, described as "grossly insufficient" by another delegate. The idea of being legally liable for causing climate change has long been rejected by richer nations, who fear huge bills well into the future. While negotiators have been congratulating themselves on a job well done in devising a rulebook, to measure emissions, to measure the impacts of our policies compared to what science recommends and to measure compliance, there are many voices here who feel that the agreement does not go far enough.

Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate change at WWF-UK, said: “There has been some positive progress, but we have not yet done enough. The world is in a state of climate emergency and yet some of our leaders prefer to stay in a state of denial. Everyone’s future is at stake. We need all countries to get much more serious about climate ambition."

Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace said: “A year of climate disasters and a dire warning from the world’s top scientists should have led to so much more. Instead, governments let people down again as they ignored the science and the plight of the vulnerable. Without immediate action, even the strongest rules will not get us anywhere. People expected action, and that is what governments did not deliver. This is morally unacceptable.”

There is a premise that this current economic status quo is forever and always has the solution to every social problem. It clearly hasn't, and this should become obvious if time is allotted to some basic research and sober reflection on the facts that capitalism holds no answer to the many ills it throws up. We live in a social system predicated on the blind, unplanned drive to accumulate that is the hallmark of capitalist production – the profit motive – which has created the problem of climate change, not individuals. There exists plenty of reasons why the task of building a political movement for socialism is urgent but now the threat to civilisation itself from the consequences of climate change itself means an increased urgency.

Capitalism pollutes almost every institution with which it comes into contact. Whether such institutions are absorbed from a previous social system or whether they grow from the foundations of the capitalist system itself, they are either moulded to suit the interests of the capitalist class or are deflected from their original purpose to meet the needs of capital. The environmentalist movement is no exception. Nevertheless, as class consciousness grows among people in all lands, co-operative action will be planned. It will not stop at the organisation of marches and demonstrations against government inaction concerning global warming. It will be co-operation to speed the abolition of capitalism, the cause of climate change. There is a saying “The grass always SEEMS greener on the other side.” The other side of capitalism is socialism where the grass will be greener from the extra effort we'll put into its cultivation. Freedom and abundance are not unobtainable. The fruits of life can be ours if we work for socialism. We could have a society where personal consumption of wealth will not be restricted by your personal circumstances and where production of wealth will not be restricted by the requirement of a surplus called profit. Socialism will take the information and communications technology that today enables vast amounts of useless information — like market fluctuations and share prices — to circulate the world in seconds, every second, and will liberate its potential for a society based on production for use, as we liberate ourselves in a movement for world socialism.

What’s all this ‘we’?

Fascinating though Brexit has been for all of us, what’s particularly interesting for a socialist is how involved ‘we’ have become in it all. People at work or in the pub have been arguing that ‘we’ need this or ‘we’ should do that, and asking what ‘we’ can do about the backstop or what will happen if ‘we’ get a no-deal. Where did this national solidarity come from? Why do ordinary, interesting people suddenly think they have formed common cause with the country’s rulers and rich elite? What sleight of hand has pulled the wool over the great class divide to the extent that workers don’t see this affair for what it is, a dispute among the rich themselves over where with whom and under what terms they can trade?

Somehow we’ve all been sucked into the media frenzy so we’re all part of the ingroup of Britain PLC, scratching our heads over Theresa May’s difficult position between the proverbial rock and the hard place. You’d understand this nationalistic bonding in a wartime scenario, with bombs falling out of the sky, but what’s the threat here? A few prices might go up. Some funding might go down. The Irish might have to have a border. You might have to pay €7 extra for your EU holiday. Really it’s not worth getting worked up about, but a kind of collective insanity has possessed the population. It’ll be just as well when it’s over, and the working class can get back to its usual business of ignoring the class war and moaning about the neighbours instead.

Why the Russian-Ukrainian clash in the Kerch Strait?

‘They’re pushing patriotism again – it means they’ve been thieving.’ This saying is said to come from the great [19th-century] satirist Saltykov-Shchedrin. Or maybe not: some say it is apocryphal. In any case, it is very popular among critics of the regime in Russia. And it is the most accurate description of what lies behind the incident in the Kerch Strait.

Who has the right to Crimea; in whose waters occurred the latest confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian warships; whether or not a warning was given; whether ships could have been stopped without opening fire – these are all matters for specialists in international law and military tactics or for political speculators. As ordinary people, we are concerned with the sources of the current growth of militarism in the region and the dangers it entails.

The current exacerbation of Russian-Ukrainian relations more than ever reflects the growing domestic political problems of the regimes in Kiev and Moscow. The anti-social, neo-liberal policies of the ruling elites in both countries are running up against increasing public discontent. In Ukraine, the government of President Poroshenko recently sharply raised the price of natural gas, as the IMF had demanded. This led to many residential heating systems being turned off, sparking angry street protests in November in a number of cities. In Krivoi Rog, people stormed the building of the gas company and turned on the heating themselves. In other places, the streets were blocked. Poroshenko is now the butt of popular hatred: under his presidency, extreme poverty has increased by tens of percentage points. And presidential elections are due next year. 
But the situation is potentially no better in Russia. After the elections of spring 2018, the government of President Putin unleashed a frontal neo-liberal assault on the population. As a result of the pension reform, his popularity and that of his ruling party have fallen to an unprecedentedly low level. Old patriotic themes such as talk about ‘Russia rising from its knees’ or the euphoria surrounding unification with Crimea are losing their potency. Ruling circles are in urgent need of a new issue to distract the public.

In similar situations the powers that be have often taken the risk of ‘a small victorious war’ [a phrase used to motivate Russia’s war with Japan in 1905 and Yeltsin’s war against Chechnya in 1994 – tr.]. But in today’s Europe, such games are too dangerous. At least, starting a war deliberately is too risky. But militarist hysteria remains a well-tested and effective political instrument. Unpopular politicians do their best to present themselves as ‘strongmen’ standing up to the ‘geopolitical adversary’. By stirring up fears of the ‘danger from without’ they aim to unite and mobilize the population in the name of the ‘national idea’ and thereby deepen the chasm between rulers and ruled.

Two questions remain. First, how much longer will people in Russia and Ukraine fall into such traps? And second, how great is the risk that the situation will unintentionally get out of control and militarist hysteria escalate into a real military conflict? In today’s world of capitalist militarism, unfortunately, it is impossible to answer such questions in advance. 

Source: (website of the Confederation of Revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalists, Russian Section of the International Workers Association, 8 December 2018). Translated by Stefan. Original title: ‘Kerch Maneuvers of the Powers That Be’ 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

There is an alternative

To leave the allocation of most resources to the market is incompatible with the realisation of environmental goals. The market responds only to those preferences that can be expressed through buying and selling. Moreover, a competitive market economy is necessarily oriented towards the growth of capital, and such an orientation is incompatible with a sustainable economy.  Capitalism, with its built-in mechanism of seeking profits to accumulate more and more capital, is the cause of environmental problems and that therefore no solution can be found to these problems within it.

The Socialist Party has described socialism in terms of abundance and there are those in the environmentalist groups who interpret this as meaning that socialism will be a society of ever-increasing personal consumption, of people coming to consume more and more food and to acquire more and more personal goods, a consumerist cornucopia. But what the Socialist Party means by a “society of abundance” is that enough food, clothing and other material goods can be produced to allow every man, woman, and child in society to satisfy their likely material needs. It is not a reference to an orgy of consumption, but simply to the fact that it is technically possible to produce more than enough to satisfy everyone’s needs.

Meeting everybody’s material needs will indeed involve in many cases an increase in what people consume. This will certainly be the case for the for the millions and millions of people in the so-called Third World who are suffering from horrendous problems of starvation, disease, and housing. So, yes, socialism will involve increases in personal consumption for three-quarters or more of the world’s population. Impossible, says some eco-activists because this would exceed the Earth’s carrying capacity and make environmental destruction even worse. Not so, is our answer.

Our critics’  mistake is to confuse consumption per head with what individuals actually consume. To arrive at a figure for consumption per head, what the statisticians do is to take total consumption of whatever and then divide it by the total population. But this doesn’t give a figure for what people consume as, in addition to personal it includes what industry, the government, and the military consume. It a grossly misleading to equate consumption per head with personal consumption since it ignores the fact that consumption per head can be reduced without reducing personal consumption and that this is, in fact, compatible with an increase in personal consumption. This in effect is what Socialists Party proposes: to eliminate the waste of capitalism, not just of arms and armies but of all the overhead costs involved in buying and selling. It has been estimated that, at the very least, half of the workforce is engaged in such socially-useless, non-productive activity (some estimates go higher). In a socialist society all this waste will be eliminated, so drastically reducing consumption per head.

This will allow room for the personal consumption of those who need it to be increased to a decent level. Diverting resources to do this — and ensuring that every human on the planet does have a decent standard of living will be the primary, the initial aim of socialism — will put up consumption per head again, but to nowhere near the level now obtaining under capitalism.

After clearing up the mess inherited from capitalism, then both consumption and production can be expected to level off (and even decline) to something approaching a “steady-state economy”. In a society geared to meeting human needs, once those needs are being met there is no need to go on producing more.

It is true that this assumes that population levels will stabilise too. This is a reasonable assumption, and is already beginning to happen, even under capitalism, as in the most developed capitalist parts of the world of Europe, North America and now Japan, fertility rates are reducing. Population growth now only feature in the poorer parts of the world, suggesting a link between it and poverty and the insecurity that goes with it (the more children you have the more chance there is of someone to care for you in your old age). The way to end population growth is to eliminate poverty and economic insecurity, which in practice can only be done by socialism. Unless prosperity of the people in the poorer parts of the world is increased, then population growth there won’t slow down. If you reject socialism all that is left is to envisage either compulsory sterilisation or letting starvation, disease, and wars take their course.

"Money Must Go"

A 1943 book making the case that "money must go!" The authors, who were sympathisers of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.


What are the reasons that prompted the writing of this book? I am presuming, of course, that it needs some justification, yet how can I justify it? Have I a great knowledge of Economics, of Sociology, or of the Sciences? Very little, I must confess. Of Literature or the Arts? Perhaps less. Literary style, maybe, whereby I hope to capture my reader's imagination, and thus to ensnare him into believing to be true what may be, in reality, an illusion? That I leave my readers to judge.
The fact is, I am just one of the ordinary people of this world; the man you see in the train or in the bus every day of the week. I have my qualifications for my job, just as you have for yours, and although that job has necessitated some years of study, I do not, for that reason, claim any superiority in intelligence.
I have my family and my hobby. I have a house for the use of which I pay rent. In short, I am one of the men in the street; one of the many, not one of the few; one of the ten million, and not one of the upper ten, but one who perhaps has taken a shade more interest in the forces mechanical and social that have moulded the ideas of humanity into their present-day groove.
But this additional interest has produced in me a tremendous change of outlook. It has caused me to regard world affairs from an entirely different viewpoint, from the viewpoint in fact of an entirely different social system, one which could be and must be achieved--if we are to survive.
By comparison with the possibilities of life under the conditions of the system that I envisage, the present social and economic system stands self-condemned. If then I state my sincere belief that a world without money, a WORLD COMMONWEALTH, will make this planet a better place for me to live on, I am equally convinced it will do so for you. Insofar as you are in the same position as myself you have as much to gain, but you have yet to realise the possibility and the necessity for the change. The realisation that a fundamental change of outlook is necessary in the whole of mankind is then the principal reason for this venture into print.
But there are other reasons. I believe that the idea that forms the foundation-stone to the structure of this book, is at rock bottom very sound although it is so very simple. I could almost say stupidly simple, though bearing in mind the fact that true simplicity is never stupid. Nevertheless, there will be many who will refuse to accept it because of its very simplicity. "It's all very well" they will say, "but--." Others will say "It's a lovely dream, although--." Still others will say "There are so many snags, the unforeseen, the unexpected--it's just impossible." To these and other critics I put the simple question, "Is there any practical alternative solution to the world's problems which offers so much for so little for all humanity?" I will be prepared to argue with those critics who reply in the affirmative.
That there will be snags I am not going to dispute, but have there not been snags and difficulties in the way of every human achievement, and of every inhuman achievement as well? And were not those difficulties overcome? Could we not by our combined efforts, and with this goal in view, overcome those difficulties that might arise in the development of the WORLD COMMONWEALTH?
I am sure of it. I am as sure of it as I am sure of the ready acceptance of the WORLD COMMONWEALTH ideal by the great mass of the people of this world, would they but take the trouble of understanding the barest essentials of the idea.
This, then, is the main purpose, and the only justification for this book. I claim no originality for the idea, merely for its presentation, and if this is the means whereby an ever-increasing number of people become infused with the desire to see such a world in their own lifetime, it will have served its purpose.
In this book I am not the Professor. I am George. I am YOU.

October, 1939--May, 1943.
"You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure." (CHARLES CHAPLIN in The Great Dictator.)

Seasonal Social - West London (18/12)

Tuesday, 18 December from 8pm
Organised by the SPGB's West London Branch 

Everyone welcome - bring a friend

Chiswick Town Hall (Committee Room)

 Heathfield Terrace,
 London W4 4JN

Venezuela - a humanitarian earthquake

 An estimated two million Venezuelans could join the ranks of migrants and refugees next year, swelling the total to 5.3 million, the United Nations said on Friday.

About 5,000 Venezuelans flee their homeland daily, down from a peak of 13,000 in August, said Eduardo Stein, a joint special representative for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Stein described the two million figure as a planning estimate for migrants and refugees leaving for neighbouring countries in the next 14 months who will need aid. 

"The region had to respond to an emergency that in some areas of concern was almost similar to a massive earthquake. We are indeed facing a humanitarian earthquake," he told a news briefing.

About 3.3 million Venezuelans have fled the political and economic crisis in their homeland, most since 2015, the UNHCR said. About 365,000 of them have sought asylum, U.N. refugee boss Filippo Grandi said. 
"The reasons these people left are ranging from pure hunger to violence and lack of security ... We at UNHCR believe many have valid reasons to seek international protection," he said.
Colombia has taken in one million Venezuelan nationals, with most others going to Brazil, Ecuador and Peru.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Black Lung

Today, black lung rates are higher than 50 years ago, affecting men as young as their 30s. Dr James Brandon Crum was alarmed.  Why was he suddenly seeing so much severe black lung – an old man’s disease – thought to be an illness of the past, appearing in younger men with significantly less time in the mines?  Crum was shocked. Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung disease, an incurable but entirely preventable illness caused by inhaling coalmine dusts, was showing up in x-rays at his clinic far above rates reported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh). Niosh intended to verify that applicants for federal and state benefits suffered a lung ailment caused by coalmine dusts, and to classify the type and severity of the disease, which is critical for determining award amounts.  Niosh confirmed Crum’s discovery. The number of black lung cases in Crum’s office was eight times their rates. An additional study corroborated Crum’s findings: 416 cases of severe black lung had been reported in three Virginia clinics. Niosh recently declared that the US is facing an epidemic, affecting one in 10 miners nationally, and one in five – twice the national rate – in the central Appalachian states of Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.

Black lung disease is caused by coal dust, which thickens the air and blackens a miner’s face. Increasingly, respirable crystalline silica, which is invisible to the naked eye, and deadlier, is also to blame.
Once these dusts enter a miner’s lungs, he will take them with him to the grave. Before then, they will sit quietly. Unnoticed. Unseen. Until enough white blood cells accumulate around the particulates to be visible on an X-ray like grains of salt sprinkled across a black tablecloth. These coal macules mimic ordinary lung tissue and other possible lung ailments and are frequently unnoticed or misdiagnosed.
Though the nodules are part of the body’s ongoing effort to rid itself of the dusts, they can become their own problem. Continued exposure to dust will grow into scar tissue or fibrosis culminating in the complicated form of the disease. In time, the scars will become as big as a grain of rice. A dime. A quarter. A half dollar. Lung capacity declines. Hypoxemia (low blood oxygen levels) sets in. All the internal organs are taxed, particularly the heart and brain, as the scar tissue slowly “eats up” a miner’s lungs. The body just won’t quit trying to rid itself of these once invisible particulates until the day finally comes when the miner does not have sufficient lung capacity left with which to breathe. 
Today’s black lung rates are higher than the ones that inspired miners and physicians to push for the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 almost 50 years ago.
“Being from this area and being from a mining family, you always had the older people who had black lung,” says Crum. “It affected them in their 70s. Now with it affecting men as young as their 30s, you have it not only affecting them, you have it affecting the younger children and their families and wives.”

And in Kentucky, their right to decent healthcare is being curtailed. Earlier this year, Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature passed House Bill-2 (HB-2), which curtails worker’s compensation, including black lung benefits, to 15 years. The bill also cuts radiologists like Crum from the certification process, limiting the doctors who can approve benefits to four pulmonologists. Three of whom consult for the coal industry.

 Black lung claimant attorney Phillip Wheeler openly refers to the bill as “The Dr Brandon Crum Exclusion Bill”. HB-2 “stacks the deck in favor of the companies”, says Wheeler. Applying for black lung benefits is an adversarial process in which the coalminer is the plaintiff and the coal company is the defendant. The plaintiff must prove black lung is disabling, and that it came from coalmining. The company’s job is to defend itself and not have to pay benefits. Kentucky has already succeeded in creating backlogs through various means. Before HB-2 went into effect this July, the wait to receive black lung benefits was about two years.

 Central Appalachian coal seams have their own particular lethality. Now that thicker seams of coal have been mined out and more rock must be cut, miners have been exposed to greater amounts of respirable crystalline silica dust, which is largely to blame for the spike in complicated black lung. There are other causes, too: more powerful machinery, longer workdays, fewer days off for miners to rest their lungs and a culture of company fealty that stretches back to coalmining’s earliest days. Coalmining is also rife with bent rules. Just because a federal protection is in place doesn’t mean companies observe it – employees of Armstrong Coal were recently indicted in western Kentucky for conspiring to falsify dust readings. In the 1960s, the narrative was the industry versus the workers, who had the public sympathy and strength in numbers. Now, the story that coal country likes to tell itself is one of a beleaguered industry and its workers united against a “war on coal”, in which zealous environmentalists threaten to put them all out of business – though a shrinking global market is the real culprit.
“What we’re seeing in central Appalachia right now is the prequel to what you will see occurring in the rest of the United States coal fields, over the decades to come,” Crum says of the current crisis. He predicts that all of the other coal-producing countries – Canada, China, India, Australia and others – will see an increase in black lung disease as higher-quality seams of coal are mined out. “This is a massive problem. And it’s just gonna get worse.”

Wages and the slump

Wages are still worth a third less in some parts of the country than a decade ago, according to research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) 
It found that the average worker has lost £11,800 in real earnings since 2008. The UK has suffered the worst real wage slump among leading economies, said the union organisation.
Workers have suffered real wage losses ranging from just under £5,000 in the north-east to more than £20,000 in London, said the report.
TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “The government has failed to tackle Britain’s cost-of-living crisis. As a result, millions of families will be worse off this Christmas than a decade ago.
“While pay packets have recovered in most leading economies, wage growth in the UK is stuck in the slow lane.
“Ministers need to wake up and get wages rising faster. This means cranking up the pressure on businesses to pay staff more, especially at a time when many companies are sitting on large profits.”
Stephen Clarke, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation thinktank, said: “While wages are currently growing at their fastest rate in a decade and employment is at a record high, the sobering big picture is that inflation-adjusted pay is still almost £500 a year lower than when Lehman Brothers was still around. Stronger wage growth is needed to make 2019 a better year for living standards than this one.”

Green Revolution or Socialist Revolution?

Capitalism is the cause of a range of environmental issues the world is facing. The Socialist Party is very much aware of the threats we are up against and have no intention of misleading them by suggesting that capitalism can be controlled by a string of green reforms. The only way to take politics out of the climate change question is to take capitalism out of the equation. Of course, capitalist governments are not going to entertain that option. But we ought to. It is impossible to tackle environmental problems without effective global planning and cooperation, a prerequisite for which is eliminating the conflicts that result from scarcity. 

Ecology is a science — the study of the inter-relations between living organisms and between them and their non-living environment, one that emphasises treating the subject matter as a whole and recognising the interdependence and interconnectedness of the various parts as well as the fact of continuous change. As ecology happens to emphasise this more than some other sciences, this was an additional reason as to why it appealed to socialists when knowledge about ecology became more widespread in the 1960s.This approach is, in fact, the best approach for all fields of scientific study. But ecology is a science and not a political doctrine.

The Socialist Party contends that the growth needed to remove scarcity can be sustainable, but only if organised in the context of a democratically planned socialist economy where production and distribution is based on human need and not markets and profits, and where buying and selling is abolished and with them consumerism and all its associated waste, where any economic growth can be constantly assessed for the impact it will have on nature and society.

The Socialist Party argues that not only is environmental destruction caused by the profit system but also that it is the science of ecology provide the knowledge and techniques that can be used to solve it given the right social and economic framework. It is because ecology is a science of interrelationships that the Socialist Party have always realised its significance. Indeed, because it emphasises the importance of the way living things get their means to survive it is the application to the world of nature of the same approach that Marx's materialist conception of history takes to human society; it is a materialist conception of the world of living things. 

Here’s an idea: take the whole world and everything in it and let it be owned and controlled by the people who inhabit it. Let us no longer produce for profit hut solely for use. Let us do away with money and have free and equal access to available goods and services. Let us break down every national border and have a democratic global community, organised locally, regionally and worldwide. Let us stop tormenting ourselves with the nonsense that human nature makes us useless and foolish. Let us recognise that humanity is intelligent and co-operative and capable of living in harmony. 

That is the vision. It is no utopia. It is realisable. It has never been tried. It offers a solution to the madness of having a world of potential abundance while millions starve and are deprived in a thousand different ways. The most exciting and empowering aspect of this idea (call it socialism—call it whatever you wish) is that it can only come about when the majority whose passivity gives leaders their power stop following and start uniting consciously and democratically. Because the problems are world-wide, we think that the solutions have to be world-wide. First, we are going to propose that the world organises itself democratically. It is not so at the moment, because we rely on leaders. We put people into positions of power, where they can control vast fortunes and vast armies, and then we expect them to act in our interest. That's like putting children in charge of a sweetshop. We should not be surprised when they let us down. But the world is no sweetshop, it is a matter of life and death. If we cannot trust leaders, we must learn to stand on our own feet - without leaders. We are not children, however much we are treated like children. We do not have to be helpless and weak. If we decide to make our world into a democracy, we are well able to do it.

If we decide that we should not be ruled over by tyrants and masters, we are well able to do that too. If enough of us organise together, we can accomplish anything. Which is just as well, because not everyone would welcome more democracy. In fact, there is a tiny minority of people who would not be at all pleased if we decided to run things ourselves. And that's because they happen to own nearly everything on this planet.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Brexit Comments

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. - Manifesto of the Communist Party.

There are sound reasons why some capitalists and politicians wish to retain the EU’s political and economic union. The failure of governments across the world to successfully tackle the many problems which have beset the capitalist economy since its inception has led many to the conclusion that action to reform and mould capitalism cannot be successfully undertaken within the borders of any one single nation state. The growing inter-connect of the capitalist economy has been seen—with a degree of justification—as a force which no longer gives automatic recognition to the individual nation. Complete withdrawal, i.e no deal, would be going against the trend under capitalism towards the concentration and centralisation of capital and so would be putting the clock back from that point of view. It could happen but it is bound to slow down the accumulation of capital in Britain. And if that happens the capitalist class will be very annoyed with their bungling political representatives, their “executive committee”.

The competitive drive to accumulate capital which pervades capitalist production and exchange ensures that sections of the capitalist class with divergent economic and strategic interests are forever in antagonism with one another over trading arrangements. sources of raw materials and spheres of influence which explains the existence of business interests who advocate Brexit.

In order for the EU to work effectively, all of Europe would have to be at the same stage of the trade cycle at more or less the same time. It is an unlikely expectation, however, that it will ever come about. For it is not only at the purely economic level that nation-states tend to march to a different tune. The more long-term political, military and strategic concerns of Europe's nation-states invariably lead them to pull in different directions. The interests of Hungary and Germany are, for example, hugely at odds. So far, capitalism has shown itself to be incapable of overcoming the national divisions that it has engendered over two centuries and more. 

For those who are calling for a referendum on May’s protracted withdrawal plan, we wonder how many would take time to read the full 585-page document of legalistically-precise, diplomatic-speak. Many employers are saying “any deal is better than no deal”. If there is no deal we would also imagine that many members of the working class too will not look kindly on those who would be responsible for an unnecessary disruption of their lives. The trading arrangements of the capitalist class don’t concern us workers, but we don’t want to be the innocent victims of the failure of their political representatives to come to some agreement whatever it might be.

 Another good reason why a second referendum is to be dreaded as it will unleash another wave of xenophobia, with verbal abuse and physical attacks, not just against East Europeans but against immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the West Indies and their descendants as both sides scramble for votes. Another example of our fellow-workers being collateral damage to this dispute among the capitalist class about their trading arrangements. 

This is a dispute between different sections of the same capitalist class which should be left to them to settle for themselves. No working class interest is involved. Why should we be asked to settle an argument between our masters which doesn’t concern us? We have no interest in taking sides on this capitalist question. Our interest lies in pursuing the class struggle and forging our own class agenda. We don’t care whether or not there is a referendum on the matter and, if there is, wouldn’t take part in it except to write “World Socialism” across the ballot paper. As socialists, who have no concern with what is in the best interest of the capitalist class, we can sit back and watch the show. As socialists we refuse to pander to petty nationalism but work to promote a world without frontiers where the Earth’s resources have become the common heritage of all.

 UN representative, Philip Alston, special rapporteur on extreme poverty, who completed a tour of the UK,  assuming some sort of hard Brexit, explained, that the poor would “bear the brunt” of the expected impact of Brexit on the UK economy, and said the fall in the value of the pound had already cost low-income families £400 a year. “In my meetings with the government, it was clear to me that the impact of Brexit on people in poverty is an afterthought.

In a yes/no referendum on the May government’s deal with the EU, workers up and down the country at their work-places, in pubs and on social media will end up arguing with each other about what terms “we”, i.e. the capitalists, should trade: WTO, Norway, Single Market, etc. Who cares if there’s a regulatory border in the Irish Sea? What difference is it going to make to anybody’s ordinary life? As a trawler fisherman at Peterhead answering Channel 4 News reporter’s question about Brexit negotiations, “Are you disappointed”, he replied, “I’ve been disappointed since I left school [I] don’t worry about it.”

In the end, there will be a deal of some sort, even one which could leave things much as they are. It will certainly leave capitalism much as it is, as a system of production for profit based on the exclusion of the majority from ownership and control of the means of production with all the problems this causes for the excluded majority and for humanity in general.

Not really from the Socialist Party perspective on the matter but this on Facebook was quite amusing:

LEAVER: I want an omelette.
REMAINER: Right. It’s just we haven’t got any eggs.
LEAVER: Yes, we have. There they are. [HE POINTS AT A CAKE]
REMAINER: They’re in the cake.
LEAVER: Yes, get them out of the cake, please.
REMAINER: But we voted in 1974 to put them into a cake.
LEAVER: Yes, but that cake has got icing on it. Nobody said there was going to be icing on it.
REMAINER: Icing is good.
LEAVER: And there are raisins in it. I don’t like raisins. Nobody mentioned raisins. I demand another vote.
LEAVER: Right, where’s my omelette?
REMAINER: I told you, the eggs are in the cake.
LEAVER: Well, get them out.
EU: It’s our cake.
JEREMY CORBYN: Yes, get them out now.
REMAINER: I have absolutely no idea how to get them out. Don’t you know how to get them out?
LEAVER: Yes! You just get them out and then you make an omelette.
REMAINER: But how?! Didn’t you give this any thought?
LEAVER: Saboteur! You’re talking eggs down. We could make omelettes before the eggs went into the cake, so there’s no reason why we can’t make them now.
THERESA MAY: It’s OK, I can do it.
THERESA MAY: There was a vote to remove the eggs from the cake, and so the eggs will be removed from the cake.
REMAINER: Yeah, but…
LEAVER: Hang on, if we take the eggs out of the cake, does that mean we don’t have any cake? I didn’t say I didn’t want the cake, just the bits I don’t like.
EU: It’s our cake.
REMAINER: But you can’t take the eggs out of the cake and then still have a cake.
LEAVER: You can. I saw the latest Bake Off and you can definitely make cakes without eggs in them. It’s just that they’re horrible.
REMAINER: Fine. Take the eggs out. See what happens.
LEAVER: It’s not my responsibility to take the eggs out. Get on with it.
REMAINER: Why should I have to come up with some long-winded incredibly difficult chemical process to extract eggs that have bonded at the molecular level to the cake, while somehow still having the cake?
LEAVER: You lost, get over it.
THERESA MAY: By the way, I’ve started the clock on this.
REMAINER: So I assume you have a plan?
THERESA MAY: Actually, back in a bit. Just having another election.
REMAINER: Jeremy, are you going to sort this out?
JEREMY CORBYN: Yes. No. Maybe.
EU: It’s our cake.
LEAVER: Where’s my omelette? I voted for an omelette.
REMAINER: This is ridiculous. This is never going to work. We should have another vote, or at least stop what we’re doing until we know how to get the eggs out of the cake while keeping the bits of the cake that we all like.
REMAINER: Fine, I’m moving to France. The cakes are nicer there.
LEAVER: You can’t. We’ve taken your freedom of movement.

Too many people or too much capitalism?

 Many environmentalists who comment on the future of mankind often stress the problems of rapid population growth. It has become a cliché in Britain to speak of “this overcrowded island”. In fact, the UK is far from being among the world’s more-populated regions. The overpopulation myth threatens to overtake the human nature myth as the chief explanation for the evils of the modern world. We have had gloomy book after book upon the prospects of a starving world as a consequence of the rising population numbers. The argument can be stated fairly simply; there are too many people on the planet and they are increasing too fast, enough is not provided by nature for them all, therefore, poverty, vices, misery and the splitting of society into haves and have-nots leading to violence and wars are inevitable. In most of the books, the basic ideas of 18th C Thomas Malthus remain unchanged. People starve because they breed too rapidly. People will stop starving when they stop breeding. It is not because the world’s wealth is owned and used by a small minority to increase this wealth still further rather than reorganise the resources in the interest of the world’s population.  It may appear that for some in the ecology movement, they are not concerned with explaining poverty and misery, they are concerned with justifying it. They see scarcity as something natural and eternal. The trouble with over-populationists is that they take the social system as something given and unalterable. 

But the point they seem to miss is that surplus population is not something natural and absolute. It is at all times relative to production, distribution and social organisation. There are definite socio-economic reasons why there was a “surplus” population in the Rhondda in 1931 and in Delhi in 1961. They were only relatively surplus and superfluous because they have been made so by the way the world’s population is organised (or disorganised) in relation to the means of production and world markets. Workers do not suffer the pangs of hunger and destitution because there are too many of them but because they cannot gain access to the things which would enable them to produce what they need. Poverty is not the result of overpopulation, on the contrary, overpopulation is the result of poverty. This is true in two senses:
(i) poverty in the sense of propertylessness which afflicts all workers generally and which can lead to relative overpopulation when this propertylessness leads to workers being cut off from the means of production during periods of unemployment and; 
(ii) poverty in the sense of destitution which can lead to apathy over questions of family limitation, which, in turn, can lead to an increasing birth-rate. 

The Greens readiness to accept the “overpopulation” argument arises from their lack of understanding of the way capitalism works. If millions are hungry, it is felt that this can only be because there isn’t enough food in the world. If millions live in overcrowded squalor, this must be because there is a shortage of living space. If people are homeless, there is a “housing shortage” and that is that. Overcrowding is not due to overpopulation, but exists principally because of the private property system which ensures that the majority of people, being poor, cannot afford to buy or rent sufficient accommodation, of sufficient quality, for their own health, privacy and peace of mind. It hardly needs pointing out that for the rich minority, there is no housing shortage and no problem of overcrowding.

 It is a total evasion of these problems to put them down to “too many people.” In fact, the readiness to “solve” human problems by wishing away the human beings who are suffering from them, is itself a horrible symptom of something profoundly wrong.

It is true that the human population affects the natural environment but the vast majority of pollution, from pesticides, herbicides, industrial waste and so forth, is quite unnecessary, and could easily be avoided upon the abolition of capitalism with its reckless race for profits. If large parts of our country are polluted, it is not because we are too numerous, but because we pollute. The way to stop that is not to stop having children, but to start cleaning up.

The Socialist Party case against the population scare is that what manifests itself as an “overpopulation problem” is really a misuse of resources problem. Capitalism, as a system of rationing via the market, is justified in people’s minds by a belief in scarcity. We hear some in the environmentalist movement tell us, “There isn’t enough to go round, so we must be restricted in what we are allowed to consume”. “Overpopulation” is used to make those of us who possess a few elementary comforts feel that we are on the brink of a vast pit of scarcity, and we ought to be thankful for what we have. Yet if we examine the potential for satisfying human needs which have been released by modern technology, we see that the opposite is the case. In order to survive, the capitalist system must continue to develop its potential for plenty, even plethora, but in order to preserve the poverty and scarcity which are its life-blood, capitalism must restrict, waste and destroy on a colossal scale.

The Socialist Party is not opposed to birth control. On the contrary, we say that everyone should have free access to effective contraceptives. What we do say is that talk of overpopulation misdirects attention from the real cause of the problems in question, and that birth control will not solve them.