Monday, December 10, 2018

Nicaragua and the News

Polls show that just one in five Nicaraguans believe the official line that “those who participated in roadblocks and marches are terrorists”. But this hasn’t stopped the Ortega-controlled courts prosecuting protesters as if they were the violent extremists government propaganda claims.

“We presented an alternative reality, where protesters were rightwing extremists killing Sandinistas,” says Carlos Mikel Espinoza, who was editor of El 19 Digital when protests broke out. “It was fascistic, an attempt to infuse hatred into government supporters and police.” Espinoza quit and fled to Costa Rica in June, after police and militants burned alive a family of six in their own home.
“It’s an Orwellian strategy, to falsify the reality of the repression,” says Sofía Montenegro, a journalist and former Sandinista guerrilla who fought alongside President Daniel Ortega in the 1970s.
The official version of events is disseminated through a media empire built by Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s first lady and, since 2017, vice-president. In 2007, shortly after her husband returned to power, Murillo published an ominous communication strategy, outlining plans to prevent critical media“contaminating” public perception of his administration. Through the next decade, Murillo spent millions of dollars of Venezuelan cooperation funds – ostensibly destined for poverty reduction – on buying up Nicaragua’s media.
TV channels 4, 8, 9 and 13 are now owned by her children; also under the family’s control are Radio Ya, Radio Nicaragua and Radio Sandino, state broadcaster Channel 6, and the online news service El 19 Digital. This media apparatus worked to whitewash the government’s deadly response to the protests.

The rich need a roof over their heads

More than 150 homes around the world changed hands for more than £20m ($25m) each in the past year, as the “relentless creation of private wealth” fuelled the global ultra-prime housing market.
The world’s richest people spent a combined £5.2bn ($6.6bn) on 153 properties that each sold for more than £20m in the year to end of August 2018, according to research by the estate agent Knight Frank.
The highest number of ultra-prime sales were in Hong Kong, where 47 homes priced at £20m or above changed hands. New York was in second place with 39. London – which topped the rankings in 2015 when £2.3bn of ultra-prime properties changed hands – slipped to third place with 38 transactions.
Most of the ultra-prime sales in London were in Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Belgravia, all of which are within the borough of the City of Westminster.
The UK’s ranks of the ultra-rich have swelled by 400 over the last year, taking the number of people with fortunes of more than £38m ($50m) to nearly 5,000. The fortunes of the already very wealthy have been growing at a far faster rate than the general population, according to a report by the Swiss bank Credit Suisse.
The number of ultra-high net worth individuals in Britain over the 12 months to summer 2018 increased by 8.5% to 4,670, while the average Briton saw their wealth, including property, increase by 1% to £213,000.

The Death Merchants

US companies hold more than half of the world market share for military equipment, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, (SIPRI).
The US company Lockheed Martin remains the undisputed leader among the world's 100 largest defense companies — no other company in the industry made a larger profit in 2017. With sales amounting to $44 billion (€27.8 billion), Lockheed Martin leads the SIPRI ranking by a wide margin.
Boeing is the world's second-largest arms manufacturer. 
Great Britain remains the largest weapons manufacturer in western Europe, followed by France. The British mega-group BAE Systems, which has more than 83,000 employees, is the only European manufacturer to make it into the top 5 in the world.
State-owned Almaz-Antey, Russia's largest armaments company, has for the first time made it into SIPRI's top 10. Turkey is also arming itself: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's strategy of becoming less dependent on arms imports has boosted Turkish arms manufacturers' profits by 24 percent.
According to the Stockholm researchers, three Chinese companies should also be among the top players. However, since they publish little reliable information on their arms sales, they have not been included in the list.

Come and join the party in Bolton



Branch Social at:
Sweet Green Tavern, 
127 Crook Street,
Bolton BL3 6DD
Located across the road from Trinity Street railway station.
The usual fun, comradeship, games and excellent beer.
Everyone welcome – bring a friend!

Socialism is the way

Many green activists like ourselves advocate a society based on cooperation and production for use, a sustainable society where production is in harmony with the environment and affairs are run in a decentralised and democratic manner. They say that only in such a system can ecological problems such as pollution and global warming be solved. The ultimate aim is a participatory economy, based on smaller-scale enterprise, with a greatly-reduced dependence on the world market. What is being proposed is the abolition both of the world market, with the competition for resources and sales it engenders, and of existing centralised states, and their replacement by a worldwide network of smaller human communities providing for their own needs. This will involve a steady-state economy based on maximum conservation of materials and energy.

The Socialist Party place ourselves unambiguously in the camp of those who argue that capitalism and a sustainable relationship with the rest of nature are not compatible and unless the environmentalists embrace socialism, their vision is unachievable. Because people believe there is no alternative to capitalism, it keeps on existing. The environmentalist’s dream of a sustainable ‘zero growth’ within capitalism will always remain just that, a dream. If human society is to be able to organise its production in an ecologically acceptable way, then it must abolish the capitalist economic mechanism of capital accumulation and gear production instead to the direct satisfaction of needs.

The excessive consumption of both renewal and non-renewable resources and the release of waste that nature can’t absorb that currently goes on are not just accidental but an inevitable result of capitalism’s very essence. The capitalist system creates vast amounts of energy waste in the military and its socially useless jobs such as marketing, finance, and banking which are part of its profit-making machine. Endless growth and the growing consumption of nature-given materials this involves is built into capitalism. Greens have never been able to answer the question which is how it can achieve a zero growth, sustainable society whilst retaining a market system which includes an irresistible, built-in pressure to increase sales for profit and where if sales collapse, society tends to break down in recession, unemployment and financial crisis.

In capitalism, natural resources are used for the production of commodities which are sold on for profit to the consumer through the markets. This means that the potential of resources to be used for enjoyment and the satisfaction of needs is subordinate to the profit interests of their owners. If the production of something is profitable, then it continues, and if it is unprofitable, it stops. The profitability of a product is linked to the cost of its being produced, and the extent to which it can be sold. In order to maximise profits, companies produce as cheaply as possible. This means that corners are cut and the methods and techniques used are those which bring in short-term gains rather than long-term sustainability. Labour and resources in developing countries are exploited to the hilt because they are cheaper. This is why cheap forest-land in South America and Africa is being decimated. In order for production to be of minimum cost to the company, it often ends up as being of maximum cost to the environment, and humanity. If a business adopts a method of production which is environmentally safe, but expensive in terms of labour or materials, it will become uncompetitive. A rival organisation producing a similar product cheaper will have the advantage, no matter what the ecological or human cost. Measures in favour of the environment come up against the interests of enterprises and their shareholders because of increasing costs they decrease profits. No State is going to implement legislation which would penalise the competitiveness of its national enterprises in the face of foreign competition. States only take into account environmental questions if they can find an agreement at the international level which will disadvantage none of them.

 Eventually, capitalist organisations have to take notice of the state of the environment, but it is usually a case of too little, too late. They only take notice once the damage has been done - once a resource has become scarce, once a reserve of needed water has become polluted.

When land, resources, and factories are owned communally and controlled democratically, there will be no them-and-us. It is only after having placed the means of society’s existence under the control of the community that we will be able to at least ensure their management, no longer in the selfish interest of their present owners, but this time really in the general interest. Humans are capable of integrating themselves into a stable eco-system and there is nothing whatsoever that prevents this being possible today on the basis of industrial technology and methods of production, all the more so, that renewable energies exist (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and whatever) but, for the capitalists, these are a “cost” which penalises them in face of international competition. No agreement to limit the activities of the multi-nationals in their relentless quest for profits is possible. So it is not “Humans” but the capitalist economic system itself which is responsible for ecological problems and the capitalist class and their representatives, they themselves are subject to the laws of profit and competition.

Whilst the means of production are owned by a minority, the motivation for production is to make a profit for that minority. Satisfying the needs and wants of humanity and protecting the environment is incidental to this, so no wonder many people are left without enough food and other goods, and no wonder resources are scarce or polluted.

 Only by replacing the profit system with a truly democratic organisation can we give the environment the priority it deserves. The Socialist Party does not presume to lay down in advance what decisions will be made in socialism we can set out a possible way of achieving an eventual zero growth society operating in a stable and ecologically benign way. You achieve this “steady state” and you don’t go on expanding production. This would be the opposite of cheap, shoddy, “throw-away” goods and built-in obsolescence, which results in a massive loss and destruction of resources. Suggestions such as improving public transport, expanding renewable energy supplies and recycling will not be news to anyone and offer the kind vision of sustainable production many aspects of which could be taken on board in a socialist society. Imagine standardising the production of all bottles and glass containers so they can be returned to food and drink producers to be used again. It’s a sensible idea - socialism would do it. Seen solely from a technical point of view there are no doubt many ways in which the damage caused to the environment could be reduced with different uses of labour. But before any of these can become real options on which communities can freely make democratic decisions, labour itself must first be liberated. Labour must enjoy its own freedom outside the present enclosed system of commodity exchange in which it is confined to its function of profit-making and the accumulation of capital.

 What is required is political action - political action aimed at replacing this system with a new and different one. There can be no justification, on any grounds whatsoever, for wanting to retain an exploitative system which robs workers of the products of their labour, which puts privileged class interests and profit before the needs of the community, which robs the soil of its fertility, plunders nature of its resources and destroys the natural systems on which all our lives depend. Ecologists fail to realise that what those who want a clean and safe environment are up against is a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding economic law of profits first.

Few in the environmentalist movement actually reject capitalism. Most are in favour of some form of capitalism, generally small-scale capitalism involving small firms serving local markets and if they desire to be seen as progressive they call for “co-operatives”. An underlying philosophy that “small is beautiful” and a philosophy that leads to mistakenly blaming large-scale industry and modern technology as such for causing pollution and not the capitalist system per se.

 Murray Bookchin argues that human beings are both a part and a product of nature and humans have a unique significance in nature since they are the only life-form capable of reflective thought and so of conscious intervention to change the environment. It is absurd to regard human intervention in nature as some outside disturbing force, since humans are precisely that part of nature which has evolved that consciously intervenes in the rest of nature; it is our nature to do so. True, that at the present time, the form human intervention in the rest of Nature takes is upsetting natural balances and cycles, but the point is that humans, unlike other life-forms, are capable of changing their behaviour. In this sense the human species is the brain and voice of nature i.e. nature become self-conscious. But to fulfil this role humans must change the social system which mediates their intervention in nature. A change from capitalism to a community where each contributes to the whole to the best of his or her ability and takes from the common fund of produce what he or she needs. Bookchin, too, is critical of those with the highly misleading notion that society can live with a market economy that is ‘green’, ‘ecological’, or ‘moral’, under conditions of wage labour, exchange, competition and the like.

Those who want a radical transformation of the world can stick to their core beliefs and principles but come to realise, as those in the Socialist Party have done, that a sustainable society can only be achieved within the context of a world in which all the Earth's resources, natural and industrial, have become the common heritage, under democratic control at local, regional and world level, of all humanity. In such a society production and distribution can be geared to satisfying human needs which, contrary to the mythology used to justify capitalism, are not limitless and can be met without over-stretching nature’s resources.

What Rights?

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signed by the United States and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.

The Declaration's first article reads: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Someone born into one of the 57 percent of U.S. households with less than $1,000 in savings will not enjoy remotely the same amount of “dignity and rights” as those enjoyed by someone born into the top 1 percent of households, which together possess as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of U.S. Citizens.

Access to basic means of comfort, dignity and freedom—like quality housing, quality education, strong legal representation, leisure, travel, health care, quality food and recreation—is filtered by the militantly disparate distribution of wealth and income in the U.S., one of the most unequal nation among all Western economies. America's’s extreme socioeconomic imbalance is inconsistent with calls for conscience and brotherhood.

Article 2 proclaims, among other things, that everyone is entitled to human rights and freedoms without distinctions of “race, color” and “national or social origin.” yet median white wealth is 12 times higher than median black wealth in the U.S.—a reflection of persistent anti-black discrimination and segregation built into the nation’s social structures and institutions.

Reflecting stark racial disparities in arrest, prosecution, legal representation and sentencing, black and Latinos make up 56 percent of the nation’s 2.2 million incarcerated people though they comprise roughly 32 percent of the U.S. population. One in three adult black males is saddled with the crippling lifelong mark of a felony record—a critical barrier to opportunity and full citizenship (even the right to vote in many U.S. states) on numerous levels.

Thanks to the racially disparate waging of the so-called war on drugs, one of every 10 U.S. black men in their 30s is in jail or prison on any given day. African-Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African-Americans for drug charges is almost six times that of whites.

Millions of undocumented immigrant workers and residents are unwilling to fight for their “universal human rights” in the U.S. because they reasonably fear arrest and deportation.
The fourth article declares, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.” However, hundreds of thousands of U.S. prisoners—the modern-day and very disproportionately non-white human chattel that provides the essential raw material for the self-declared “Land of Freedom’s” curiously gigantic prison-industrial complex—perform labor tasks for tiny levels of compensation and often for no payment at all.
The Global Slavery Index estimates that 57,000 people are victims of human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, with illegal smuggling and trading of people, for forced labor or sexual exploitation, in the United States.
Hundreds of millions of nominally free Americans are wage-slaves and serfs to employers
The Universal Declaration’s fifth article says, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Torture and such treatment is endemic across the United States’ vast prison system, the largest in world history. One particularly widespread and egregious form of cruel and inhuman treatment inside that system is solitary confinement—a punishment well known to cause grave damage to its victims’ mental and physical health. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that:
Over the last two decades, the use of solitary confinement in U.S. correctional facilities has surged … 44 states and the federal government have supermax units, where prisoners are held in extreme isolation, often for years or even decades. On any given day in this country, it’s estimated that over 80,000 prisoners are held in isolated confinement. This massive increase in the use of solitary has happened despite criticism from legal and medical professionals, who have deemed the practice unconstitutional and inhumane.
Other forms of torture and cruel and inhumane treatment that are commonin the nation’s vast archipelago of racially disparate mass incarceration include widespread beatings, rape, ignoring cries for help, overcrowding, underfunding, forcing inmates to fight, dehydration, starvation, denial of medical care, executions (including botched executions) and forced scalding showers.
Article 7 of the UD states, “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”
This principle, too, is brazenly violated in the purported homeland and headquarters of global freedom and democracy. Many Americans are familiar with the old working-class aphorism that “money talks and bullshit walks”—meaning that the wealthy few hire high-priced lawyers to enhance their chances and power in the courts while everyday people do far less well with fewer resources to pay for legal representation. It’s no joke. As the Georgia gubernatorial candidate and former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams noted last February, people with money “artfully navigate the criminal justice system and maybe even avoid it altogether,” but those who are poor are overwhelmed.
Wall Street bosses who threw millions of Americans out of work and destroyed billions of dollars in lost savings through their reckless and often criminal practices have escaped prosecution while the nation’s jails and prisons are loaded with disproportionately black, Latino and poor people serving long terms for comparative small-time drug offenses. Hundreds of thousands of Americans rot in jail prior to conviction for the simple reason that they lack the financial resources to “make bail.” Abrams reports, “The majority of Georgians incarcerated in local jails have never been convicted of crime. They are simply too poor to pay their bail.”
The UD’s ninth and 10th articles say that “ one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” and “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” The 11th article says, “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”
The “land of freedom” contravenes these core civil-libertarian principles without the slightest hint of embarrassment. The U.S. National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes the indefinite military detention, without charge or trial, of any person labeled a “belligerent”—including an American citizen. The legislation overrides habeas corpus, the critical legal procedure that prevents the government from detaining you indefinitely without showing just cause.
In addition, the federal government has used the post 9/11 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) law to justify the direct killing (without a trial or verdict) of anyone proclaimed an “enemy combatant” in the global war on terrorism. The AUMF is unbound by geographic or time limitations. U.S. citizens are not exempted, nor is U.S. territory.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported last January, “For the third year in a row, [U.S. local and state] police nationwide shot and killed nearly 1,000 people. …” Police killings, disproportionately inflicted against poor people and people of color, amount to executions, without trial or verdict.
The presumption of innocence does not prevent hundreds of thousands of American from experiencing the torture of incarceration simply because they cannot pay bail while awaiting trial.
The UD’s 12th article proclaims, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.” So what? Americans are subject to a vast private and public surveillance apparatus that has essentially abolished privacy in the name of “national security.” As the ACLU reports:
Numerous government agencies—including the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and state and local law enforcement agencies—intrude upon the private communications of innocent citizens, amass vast databases of who we call and when, and catalog “suspicious activities” based on the vaguest standards. … Innocuous data is fed into bloated watchlists, with severe consequences—innocent individuals have found themselves unable to board planes, barred from certain types of jobs, shut out of their bank accounts, and repeatedly questioned by authorities. Once information is in the government’s hands, it can be shared widely and retained for years, and the rules about access and use can be changed entirely in secret without the public ever knowing.

Article 15 of the UD says, “Everyone has the right to a nationality” and “No one shall be deprived of the right to change his nationality.” Millions of “illegal” immigrants in flight from impoverished and repressive regimes supported by the United States are stateless people, too afraid of deportation to declare their foreign citizenship or to fight for decent conditions inside the U.S. They are not free to change their nationality by becoming U.S. citizens.
The UD’s 19th article declares, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference.” That’s nice. Millions of U.S. citizen-subjects know very well that they cannot write or say (or sing or post or march on behalf of) what they believe without putting their livelihoods at risk by offending or otherwise concerning their employers and other authorities. And in the United States, where health insurance is strongly and absurdly tied to place of employment, putting one’s job at risk also endangers a person’s and his or her family’s access to health care.
Freedom of expression is strictly qualified, to say the least, in the hidden and despotic abode of the capitalist workplace, where most working-age Americans spend most of their waking hours under managerial supervision.
Even tenured academics can be fired for expressing their opinions. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fired tenured professor Steven Salaita over his personal tweets criticizing Israel’s mass-murderous 2014 assault on Gaza. The prolific radical Native American author Ward Churchill was stripped of his tenured professorship on trumped-up grounds because of political comments he made on the 9/11 terror attacks.
Article 20 of the UD says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
These rights are strictly qualified in the U.S., where public assembly is controlled by onerous permitting processes and fees and peaceful protest gatherings commonly face militarized police forces that make random arrests, infiltrate marches and meetings, target organizers, give protesters petty charges (and deadly criminal records) and rough-up protesters. Numerous Republican-controlled states have passed bills that increase penalties for public protest in the wake of the many protests that accompanied Donald Trump’s election and inauguration.
Workers are fired for trying to organize unions in the U.S., where once union-friendly labor laws have been eviscerated.
The UD’s 21st article proclaims that “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
The reality of U.S. politics and policy stands in brazen defiance of this universal human right. As the distinguished liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Marin Gilens (Princeton) showed in their expertly researched book, “Democracy in America?” last year:
[T]he best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups—especially business corporations—have had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless. … The will of majorities is often thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves. … Majorities of Americans favor … programs to help provide jobs, increase wages, help the unemployed, provide universal medical insurance, ensure decent retirement pensions, and pay for such programs with progressive taxes. Most Americans also want to cut “corporate welfare.” Yet the wealthy, business groups, and structural gridlock have mostly blocked such new policies [and programs].

Elections alone,” Page and Gilens note, “do not guarantee democracy.” Majority U.S. opinion is regularly trumped by a deadly complex of forces in the nation’s politics, including:
  • The campaign finance, candidate-selection, lobbying and policy agenda-setting power of wealthy individuals, corporations and interest groups
  • The special primary election influence of full-time party activists
  • The disproportionately affluent, white and older composition of the active (voting) electorate
  • The manipulation and restriction of voter turnout
  • The widespread dissemination of distracting, confusing, misleading and just plain false information
  • Absurdly and explicitly unrepresentative political institutions like the Electoral College, the unelected Supreme Court, the over-representation of the predominantly white rural population in the U.S. Senate and the one-party rule in the House of “Representatives”
  • The fragmentation of authority in government
  • Corporate ownership of the reigning media, which frames current events in accord with the wishes and world view of the nation’s real owners—its “unelected dictatorship or money”
    Americans get to vote but mammon reigns nonetheless in the United States, where, Page and Gilens find, “government policy … reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the pre-approved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.
    Taken from here


Venue: Committee Room,
 Chiswick Town Hall, 
Heathfield Terrace, London W4 4JN
Come and join us at our Seasonal Social.
We will adjourn to a local hostelry at 10pm when our tenure at the Town Hall expires.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Migrant Facts

here were 258 million international migrants in the world last year, increasing almost 50 percent since 2000, according to the UN.
If all of the world's international migrants lived in a single country, it would be the world's fifth largest.
The number of migrants, representing 3.4 percent of the world's population, is increasing faster than the global population, driven by economic prosperity, inequality, violence, conflict and climate change.
More than 3,300 people have "died or gone missing in the process of migrations towards an international destination" in 2018.
Even in transit countries, or country of destination, racism, discrimination and human rights violations are continuously reported.

Workers don’t need to go green to save the planet - they need to go red.

Humanity faces a global crisis caused by the capitalist system. There is catastrophic climate change which threatens to end life on our planet, then there is endemic war and conflict, mass poverty a ruthless assault on working people working and living conditions worldwide. Capitalism will destroy the human race. It is absolutely clear that the ruling class will continue to put the drive for corporate profit ahead of everything, even our own future as a species. It is incapable of changing. Even when it recognises the danger it cannot stop doing what it does. If capitalism is not overthrown, humanity is most likely doomed. The only way out is the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by socialism. The Socialist Party rejects in advance any argument that the crisis of global warming and climate change is so critical that it stands above politics or that there is no time to build a mass socialist party or that we can’t wait for socialism to replace capitalism. We don't propose waiting for anything — we are campaigning all the time and are trying to drive the struggle forward right now. But the basic point still stands: the capitalist class is leading humanity to absolute disaster and its class position means it cannot and will not do anything else. What is necessary is to organise the forces capable of prising its mad grip from the steering wheel and carrying out a drastic change of course.

The all-pervasive mass media workers ensure the workers receive a fantasy view of what is actually desirable and possible for them. The Socialist Part challenges this by making clear that people cannot live without perspectives, without hope for the future. Those who hope to organise a great movement of the masses must never forget this, never fail to inspire fellow workers with confidence that the future will be better than the present if only we strive to make it so. The idea of socialism, of the good society of the free and equal, is not a utopian fantasy but the projection of future reality. When this idea takes hold of the people it will truly be the greatest power in the world.  The world will be changed by people who believe in the boundless power of the socialist idea.

The environmental movement is stuck on false panaceas like cap-and-trade, cutting individual consumption (“live others so that others may simply live”), and outright reactionary “solutions” that revolve around some form of population control (as if the number of people on the planet was the problem rather than the nature of the relationship between said people and the planet). A truly effective environmental movement needs to connect with the only social force within the capitalist system that can win real change – the working class.

Capitalism is organized around companies making as much money as quickly as possible; if they don’t, their competitors will drive them out of business. As a result, corporations have an incentive to pollute because investing in clean technologies for their business would be costly and cut into their precious profits. Furthermore, there are entire branches of industry that depend on pollution – gas, coal, and the auto industries, to name just a few. They have a vested interest in blocking any kind of meaningful development of green technology or any tinkering with the transportation infrastructure which is heavily car-centered.

If capitalism can’t be reformed to subordinate profit to human survival, what alternative is there but to move to a globally coordinated economy? Problems like climate change require the ‘visible hand’ of conscious planning. Capitalist leaders can’t help themselves, have no choice but to systematically make wrong, irrational and ultimately suicidal decisions about the economy and the environment. The fact that ecological problems don’t respect national or institutional borders is often used as an excuse for inaction, leading to the chronic breakdown of global climate negotiations. But that interdependence should be an impetus to reinvigorate the workers' movements — a reminder that sustainability will come only through global solidarity. So then, what other choice do we have than to consider a true eco-socialist alternative? Is this Utopia?  But are not utopias, i.e. visions of an alternative future, wish-images of a different society, a necessary feature of any movement that wants to challenge the established order? The socialist ecological utopia is only an objective possibility, not the inevitable result of the contradictions of capitalism, or of the ‘iron laws of history’. One cannot predict the future, except in conditional terms: what is predictable is that in the absence of an eco-socialist transformation the logic of capitalism will lead to dramatic ecological disasters, threatening the health and the lives of millions of human beings, and perhaps even the survival of our species. What we need is socialism that points not to the primacy of ecology, but to the integration of natural and social, organic and industrial, ecological and technological; that recognises human transformations of the natural world without simply asserting domination over it. We’re not talking about preserving an idealised picture of pristine, untouched nature — we’re talking about the world we choose to make, and the world we’ll have to live in. 

Work longer hours in Hungary

Thousands of Hungarians protested in Budapest on Saturday against a proposed new labour law that allows employers to ask for up to 400 hours of overtime work per year, a move its critics have billed as the "slave law".
Members of trade unions gathered and marched waving banners like "we protest against the slave law" and "force your mother to do overtime".
The modification to the labour code submitted to Parliament this week has faced intense criticism, sparking the biggest street protest in over a year. Potentially, it could add two extra hours to an average work day, or the equivalent of an extra workday per week.
"We are all really upset about the way things are going in this country," Zoltan Laszlo, vice chairman of the Vasas ironworkers union, told Reuters. "This government just makes laws with scant consultation of those affected. Our health status is already abysmal. People who make these kinds of laws work against society. We'll show them that we can take our fate into our own hands. We are willing to turn a lot harsher."

A Question of Definition 1 and 2

A Question of Definition (1) (From March 1978 Socialist Standard)

Words, written and spoken, are the tools we use in our task of trying to spread socialist understanding and we are therefore particularly concerned to clearly define the words we use. Language, like everything else in the world, is constantly changing, as new social experiences demand new words or as old words assume new meanings. Dictionaries only give the meaning of words at the date they are drawn up and even then merely describe how words are used rather than prescribe how they should be used.

This is why when there is an argument over a definition of a word this cannot be settled by a simple reference to a dictionary. To assume that it could is to assume that the definition of words has been settled once and for all and that arguments over the definition of words are illegitimate. We don’t accept this, not only because we know that words change their meaning but also because we reserve the right to define certain words in ways which we consider more useful, from the point of view of understanding and changing the world, than the currently used definitions.

This is why we do not accept current dictionary definitions of such words as class, socialism and revolution. As dictionaries merely describe how these words are used they merely reflect what is in our opinion confused and confusing current popular usages.

A book such as Raymond Williams’ Key Words (Fontana), which seeks to give both the history of a word and controversies over how it should be used, is thus to be welcomed. Williams is the author of a book published in 1956 called Culture and Society, a title which indicates his main concern: literature and art in relation to society. Nevertheless there figure among his “key words” words which are also key words for us such as (to mention only those which occur in our declaration of principles): capitalist, class, common, community, democracy, equality, evolution, interest, labour, mankind, monopoly, socialist, society, wealth. We do not of course always agree with his conclusions, or even his history (he attributes, for instance, the coining of the phrase dialectical materialism to Engels whereas it was first used by Joseph Dietzgen in the 1870s), but we will follow his practice and give our history and definition of the key words in our vocabulary: capitalism, class, reform, revolution and socialism.

Capitalism, Capitalist

Both these are key words in the socialist vocabulary since we describe present-day society as capitalism and one of the two classes into which it is divided as the capitalist class.

Capitalist came into the English language in the early part of the 19th century and meant someone who had “capital”. Capital was a shortening of the phrase “capital stock” and referred to a monetary fund. Thus capitalist was basically somebody with money. Later, as the classical political economists came to distinguish various types of capital employed in production—circulating capital, fixed capital—the word came to apply also to employers of labour and owners of factories, mines and mills.

Capitalism was not originally the name for a system of society but for a system of production, one based on the investment of money-capital. Williams claims that to talk about capitalism as a system of society it to confuse a distinction made by Marx between “bourgeois society” and “capitalist production”.

Certainly Marx did speak of “bourgeois society” or rather its German equivalent “bürgerlich Gesell-schaft”. Bourgeois is of course a French word and originally referred to the citizens of towns in Mediaeval France which enjoyed certain privileges, for which the English equivalent might be “freeman”. Later it came to be associated with anyone who, not being an aristocrat, enjoyed a steady income and led a respectable life. As it was precisely this class of people which gained from the French Revolution, taking over from the landed aristocracy as the ruling class, it was quite natural that in French this should have been called a “revolution bourgeoise” and the society over which they ruled a “société bourgeoise”.

The German equivalent “bürgerlich” is a further complicating factor in that it also means “civil” (hence “Burgerkrieg” = civil war) and was used by Hegel, who considerably influenced Marx, in the phrase “burgeriich Gesellschaft” (= civil, rather than bourgeois, society) which he contrasted with the State. Civil society was, if you like, all the non-political activities of men, i.e., above all their economic activities. Thus, whether translated “bourgeois society” or “civil society”, the German phrase used by Marx led him to a study of the system of production which, in both English and German, he called “capitalist”.

Bourgeois is not a word we use except in the phrase “bourgeois revolution” (to describe political revolutions in which the rising capitalist class—then only a “middle class” or, even, a “bourgeoisie”—takes political power from the landed aristocracy). It is not and never has been in wide use in English where there have always been adequate alternatives.

In this connexion it is significant that when Marx and Engels wrote in English they chose to avoid the word “bourgeois”. Thus in Value, Price and Profit, a talk delivered in 1865, Marx talks of “the capitalist class” and “the capitalists”. Engels in the series of articles he wrote for the Labour Standard in 1881 followed the same practice and in one place even used the phrase “capitalist system”. Both Marx and Engels were deliberately trying to express themselves here in English idiom, to use phrases already current in the working class movement in England, phrases which have survived and fully justify the use of “capitalist” rather than “bourgeois” to describe present- day society.

Later, when in the early part of this century the ending -ism, in connexion with socialism, came to mean not just the theory but also the putting into practice of that theory and so to a system of society, it was natural that the same transition should take place with regard to capitalist so that capitalism became an alternative word for what had previously had to be called “capitalist society”.

Capitalism, then, is defined by us as a system of society based on the monopoly of the means of production by a minority class and their use to produce wealth to be sold on a market with a view to profit, i.e., as capital, as wealth used to produce other wealth with a view to a profit.

Adam Buick

A Question of Definition (2) Class and Reform (From April 1978 Socialist Standard)

Class was originally a general term for a division or a group and was thus equivalent to modern “category”. Thus it had no particular social significance but from the period 1770 to 1840 it came increasingly to be used to describe divisions in society. Williams explains its displacing of previous words for social divisions such as rank, order, estate, degree by the fact that, unlike them, class did not imply a hierarchical arrangement of society—such as feudalism had been but as (an) emerging capitalism was not.

Even so, the first uses of class were hierarchical: lower classes, middle classes, upper classes. “Working classes’’ dates from early in the 19th century and seems to have been coined by Robert Owen (who is also responsible for another key word in the socialist vocabulary: socialism itself). At that time the big political struggle in Britain was for the Reform of the House of Commons, i.e., a redistribution of constituencies to give the new industrial areas more representation and an extension of the franchise. In this struggle “the middle classes”, as the capitalist employers called themselves, supported by ‘”the working classes”, saw themselves opposed to “the privileged classes” (i.e., the landed aristocrats, the clergy of the Established Church, those with government sinecures).

The compromise reached between the capitalists and “the privileged classes” in 1832, which left the great bulk of workers without the vote, led groups of workers to perceive the conflict of interest between the working class and “The middle classes” or capitalist or master class (a term used in our declaration of principles in 1904 but which has now dropped out of use) as they came to call them. Pro- working class writers showed how “the middle classes” too should be included among “the privileged classes” since they lived off profits got from the labour of the working class. By the 1860s “capitalist class” and “working class” were in current use.

Marx in Capital (1867) in fact distinguished a third class: the class of landlords who monopolise natural resources and live off rents, not only without haying to work but also without having to invest’ any capital either. Nowadays this class, through long ago investing its rents in industry and banking, has merged with the capitalist class arid so virtually disappeared as a distinct class.. Thus we can say that today society is, to all intents and purposes, divided into two classes: the capitalist class and the working class, defined by their different relationship to the means of production. The capitalist class, as a class, monopolise the means of production; they own and control them. The working class are excluded from ownership and control of the means of production and only have access to them on the capitalists’ terms: on condition that the capitalists think they can make a profit by selling what the workers produce. There is thus a fundamental conflict between these two classes which takes the form of a permanent class struggle, ultimately over the ownership and control of the means of production but at the moment only over wages and working conditions.

The phrase working class was, as we saw, originally “working classes”,, but this usage is loose and theoretically wrong since there is only a single working class. But there is another confusion arising out of the phrase’s association with “working man” and “workman” which refer to manual labour, so that it is often assumed that the working class is confined to manual workers, in the factories and mines’, on the railways and docks, etc. This mistake is made not only by those who do not want to be considered as members of the working class, but also by manual workers who do not consider civil servants, clerks and other “pen-pushers” as real workers. But it is a mistake and arises from an alternative and inadequate definition of class in terms of social status rather than relationship to the means of production. Thus there is supposed to be an upper class of aristocrats and capitalists enjoying high social status, a middle class of professional people and office workers enjoying a middling social status and a lower, working class of manual workers with no social status; various refinements can be introduced according to taste like lower middle class, upper working class, etc.

But it is clear that, as far a relationship to the means of production is concerned, office workers (including managers) are in precisely the same position as shop floor workers: they are excluded from ownership and control of the means of production and are forced to obtain a living, by selling their mental and physical energies to an employer. This in fact is our definition of working class: all those who are forced to sell their mental and physical energies in order to live. It would have been convenient to use some phrase such as “wage-earning class” in order to make our point of view clear at first sight, but unfortunately not only does a section of the working class call itself the “middle class” but even denies that it is paid wages as workers are and insists on calling them a salary instead. In fact a salary is equally a price for the sale of a person’s mental and physical energies, but this snobbery means that in order to make ourselves absolutely clear who we mean by working class we have to say “those forced to work for a wage or salary” or, less adequately but more simply, “wage and salary earners”.  

Williams detects a third use of class defined not by relationship to the means of production, nor by social status but by political consciousness. It is true that Marx did sometimes, especially in his earlier writings, use class in this sense, saying that the workers or the peasants did not constitute a class until they perceived themselves to be a class with a common interest and organised themselves consciously to pursue that interest. This has been expressed, in philosophical terms, by distinguishing between a “class-in-itself” (defined by relationship to the means of production) and “class-for-itself” (defined by political consciousness). While not denying that this is a useful distinction it is hardly an adequate definition of class; otherwise the working class would be reduced to the tiny minority who at present want Socialism! The distinction is better made by saying that the working class now exists, but is not yet class conscious (defined politically to mean not simply a trade union consciousness but as wanting and understanding Socialism).

Reform, Reformism, Reformist

Reform, as a noun meaning a specific measure, dates from the end of the 18th century and was particularly associated with moves to make elections to the House of Commons more democratic. Thus the 1832 Act of Parliament which redistributed constituencies and extended the franchise was called the Reform Act. A second “Reform Act”, which further extended the franchise, was passed in 1867. But then, as the focus of popular agitation shifted from trying to change political institutions to trying to change society, reform came to mean also a specific measure aimed at improving society, hence “social reform”. But (at least in the way we have always used the word) reform does not refer to all attempts to improve social conditions but only to measures passed by Parliament or implemented by the State; thus, for instance, trade union activity and the work of private charities, whatever may be said for or against them, are not reforms.

Raymond Williams (Key Words, Fontana) detects an ambiguity, dating from the word’s first appearance in English in the 14th century, between reform in the sense of improve and reform in the sense of re-form, restore, rearrange. Thus someone who wants to reform capitalism may justify this as a supposed step towards Socialism or as a means of strengthening capitalism. There is no doubt that Williams is right here as can be seen from how the meaning of the word reformism has changed over the years.

This word is less than a hundred years old and originates from arguments within the French Social Democratic movement towards the end of the last century. One tendency argued that it was possible to gradually reform capitalism into Socialism by a series of reform measures; this view was known as “réformisme” and its supporters called themselves “réformistes”. In Britain a similar doctrine was propagated by the Fabian Society where it was more commonly known as “gradualism” (from the Fabian slogan “the inevitability of gradualness”). The Social Democratic Federation too had a similar position, labelling the reforms they advocated “stepping stones to Socialism”.

Today, however, we use the word reformist to refer to anyone who seeks to reform capitalism for whatever reason and irrespective of whether or not he claims to be a Socialist. This (quite justified) extension of the word reflects the fact that nowadays the leaders of parties such as Labour have no idea of what Socialism is (unlike some early Fabians who were on record as calling for the abolition of the wages system) and so cannot be said to want to transform society, even gradually, into Socialism and the fact that openly pro-capitalist parties, even the Conservative Party, also claim to stand for the improvement of society by means of reforms. Thus when we call someone a reformist today the suggestion is not there, as it once was, that he wants Socialism but has a mistaken view of how to achieve it. A reformist today is simply someone who (Williams’, second sense) wants to re-form capitalism in one way or another or for one reason or another.

Adam Buick

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Changing Customs

It will take 100 years to end child marriage if current trends continue, economists warned on Friday, urging governments to spend more on tackling a problem that affects 12 million girls every year.
A study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found global rates of child marriage were declining so slowly the world would miss a target of eradicating the practice by 2030 by many decades. It will also miss a goal of eradicating female genital mutilation (FGM) by that date, the OECD said.
"Progress in eliminating both practices is too slow as people, including women sometimes, are not ready to abandon them," the OECD said in a statement emailed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Raising awareness should be a key priority of gender-sensitive policies."
In Burkina Faso, for example, 44 percent of the population thinks a girl should be married before she is 18. 39 percent of women suffered FGM in 29 countries in Africa and Asia and 23 percent believe the practice should continue.
"To make real progress on this issue we need to address its root cause," said Lakshmi Sundaram, executive director of campaign group Girls Not Brides. "We need to change social norms, to address head-on the belief that girls are not as valuable as boys, and that their only role in society is to become wives and mothers."
FGM, which affects an estimated 200 million girls worldwide, involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia and can cause chronic pain, menstrual problems and infertility. Some girls bleed to death or die from infections.
Julia Lalla-Maharajh, founder of the Orchid Project, said significant progress had been made in stopping FGM.
"We know that girls are a third less likely to be cut now than they were 30 years ago," she said. In West Africa, more than 8,500 villages have abandoned both FGM and child marriage due to efforts of grassroots initiatives, she added.
"Survivors are busting the myths within their communities around why girls must be cut," said Shelby Quast, Americas director of campaign group Equality Now. "As communities learn that FGM is not a religious requirement, that there is no health benefit, only lifelong harm, they are beginning to change."