Monday, October 30, 2006

"Too late" to stop global catastrophe?

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“At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing over nature – but that we, with flesh and blood and brain, belong to nature and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly. We are gradually learning to get a clear view of the indirect, more remote social effects of our productive activity, and so are afforded the opportunity to control and regulate these effects well. This regulation, however, requires a complete revolution in our existing mode of production…in our whole contemporary social order”

You could be forgiven for thinking the above quotation came from a modern day ecologist or environmentalist, commenting on impending global ecological catastrophe and drawing upon the myriad reports currently in existence, written by concerned scientists that portend cataclysmic changes to our life styles if we don’t stop abusing our natural environment immediately. The quote is in fact 131 years old and is taken from Dialectics of Nature, written by Frederic Engels (1875).

So let’s get one thing straight from the outset. Socialists have been warning about the effects of capitalism’s penny-pinching production methods for well over a hundred years, and how they impact on the wider environment, and it is often with despair that we reiterate the Engels message from the latter 19th century, more so now that state of the art technology exists that provides hard evidence as to the dire effects of capitalist production.

So it is not with any great sigh of relief, or shock and disbelief, that socialist’s would have read the lead story in today’s Independent, which covered the findings of Sir Nicholas Stern’s long awaited report on climatic change and indeed the government’s reaction to it. It does make for grim reading, suggesting that time is running out to really address the environment question – previous opportunities having been pathetically squandered at the Hague and Kyoto Summits – and that the possibility of preventing a global disaster is "already almost out of reach".

The Independent informs us: “With world temperatures on course to rise by two to three degrees in 50 years, rainfall could be catastrophically reduced in some of the world's poorest countries, while others grapple with floods from melting glaciers. The result could be the largest migration of refugees in history.”

Amongst the reports shocking revelations, writes Andy McSmith, is “that changes in weather patterns could drive down the output of the world's economies by an amount equivalent to up to ?6 trillion a year by 2050, almost the entire output of the EU.”

The 700 page report, commissioned by the Treasury and carried out by the former World Bank chief economist (Nicholas Stern) argues environmental problems will be "difficult or impossible to reverse" unless something is done now. It says: "Our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century."

All is not lost, believe Chancellor Gordon Brown and Environment Secretary David Miliband. They point to the “positive message” arising from the report; this being that the world has the means to avoid the awaiting cataclysm. Money can be thrown at the problem – the earth shattering sum of 1 per cent of Global GDP (?0.3 trillion dollars); a figure, incidentally, which is dwarfed by global military spending.

Labour’s elite would have it that Sir Nick is something of a drama queen, but there again the government is first and foremost the executive of the capitalist class, with powerful interests to defend, so is not wont to panic their pals in big business with hints at environmental legislation that might eat into their profits. Milliband sounded quite optimistic being interviewed by The Independent. He said: "The second half of his message is that the technology does exist, the financing, public and private, does exist, and the international mechanisms also exist to get to grips with this problem - so I don't think it's a catastrophe that he puts forward. It's a challenging message.”

And what are offered are capitalist remedies, and to make it all the more attractive there are profits to be had – well, the master class have to have some damned incentive before they act. As the Independent reported:

“Combating climate change could become one of the world's biggest growth industries, generating around ?250bn of business globally by 2050.” Providing, that is, that we still have a planet worth saving in 50 years time.

Governments appear oblivious to the fact that oil production will shortly peak, that half the earth’s available oil is estimated to by used within 10 years , and within another 20 years countries like China and India will have huge demands that will outstrip supply. Consider the global conflicts this will create

Far worse than a shortage of oil is a shortage of water. We already know that 500 million live in regions prone to chronic drought. Scientists have forewarned us that within 20 years that figure is expected to increase fivefold to between 2.5bn and 3.5bn people. Already over 5 million people die annually - including 2 million children - from diseases caused by drinking contaminated water. Again, what desolation does this portend for the human race?

In the oceans, almost 50% of fish stocks are fully exploited, 20% are over-exploited, and only 2% are recovering. On land, soil erosion and degradation mean that half a billion people live in countries whose arable land can no longer support their own populations. The natural habitats of many animal species are being lost on an alarming scale, which with the decline of bird species, plants, forests - on which, ultimately, the human race depends – signals a crisis for biodiversity.

And the best capitalist politicians can think up is to tempt the master class with the whiff of profits to come if they agree to mend their ways. The very people who have disregarded the effects of their production methods on the natural environment for hundreds of years are now being asked to show it some mercy! Global environmental catastrophe can be halted by throwing money at the problem!

Right across the planet the economic system that governments defend plunders and squanders the Earth’s non-renewable mineral and energy resources and with one object in mind – profit. All over the world it pollutes the seas, the air we breathe, the forests, rivers and lakes, upsetting natural balances, eco-systems and defying the laws of ecology. Clearly, this destruction and waste cannot continue indefinitely. It should not and must not and no amount of money is going to redress the delicate balance.

Socialists have long argued that it is quite possible to meet the material needs of every person on this planet without destroying the natural systems on which we depend and on which we are party. So what stands in the way? Why isn’t this done? The simpler answer, which we must not get tired of reiterating, is that under the present economic system, production is not geared to meeting human needs but rather to accumulating profits for a few. Consequently, what we produce and the methods and the materials we employ are not decided rationally and democratically, but are dictated by market forces.

Production today is in the hands of business enterprises of one sort or another, all competing to sell their products at a profit. All of them – and it does not matter whether they are privately owned or state-owned – aim to maximise their profits. This is not the result of the greed of the owners or managers, as some Greens claim, but an economic necessity, imposed by the forces of the market. If a business does not make a profit it goes out of business. “Make a profit or die” is the law of the capitalist jungle.

Under the demands of the market, businesses only take into account their own narrow financial interests, ignoring wider social and ecological considerations. The whole of production, from the process employed to the choice of what to produce, is distorted by this drive to make and accumulate profits. The result is an economic system governed by anarchic market forces which compel decision-makers, however selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste.

So it’s no wonder that nature’s balances are upset today, and that we face problems like global warming, acid rain and the widening hole in the ozone layer, to name just a few. It’s no wonder that the Earth’s easily accessible resources are plundered without a thought for the future; that the power stations and factories release all sorts of dangerous and noxious substances into the air and water; that chemical fertiliser and pesticides that get into the food chain are used in agriculture; that animals are injected with hormones, fed unnatural diets; that human waste is not recycled back to the land; that non-biodegradable plastics and textiles are produced; that lead is put into petrol; that goods are made so as not to last, etc. The list of anti-ecological practises imposed by market forces is endless.

The conclusion is clear: If our needs are to be met while at the same time respecting the laws of nature, the present market-driven profit system must go and be replaced with a system capable of producing the essentials humans need, but in an ecologically friendly way.

Most Greens believe that things could be put right with a change of government policy, which is exactly what Labour now proposes. What is needed, they say, is a government that will pass laws and impose taxes – on air travel, motoring and high emission vehicles - to protect the environment. But experience shows that no government, however well meaning or determined, can protect the environment. Governments exist to run the political side of the profit system. They do not have a free hand to do what is sensible or desirable. They can only act within the narrow limits imposed by the market system. This is why the reformist policy advocated by the Green Party, Friends of the Earth etc. is not working. At most it could only succeed in slowing down the speed of decay, not in making the profit system work in an environmentally friendly way. Those who want a clean and safe environment are up against a well entrenched economic and social system, based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding law of profits first. What Greens should work towards is not a change of government, but a change of society.

If we are to meet our needs in an ecologically acceptable way, we humans must first be in a position to control production or, to put it another way, to consciously regulate our interaction with the rest of nature – and the only basis on which this can be done is the common ownership of productive resources.

Once the Earth’s natural and industrial resources have become the common heritage of all humanity, then production can be geared to meeting needs in an ecologically acceptable way, instead of making profits without consideration for the environment. These include types of farming that preserve and enhance the natural fertility of the soil, the systematic recycling of materials obtained from non-renewable energy sources while developing alternative sources that continually renew themselves (i.e. solar energy and wind power); industrial processes that avoid releasing poisonous chemicals or radioactivity into the biosphere; the manufacture of solid good made to last, not planned to break down after a period of time.

We are talking about a system of society based on common ownership and democratic control of productive resources. That is the only basis on which we can meet our needs whilst respecting the laws of nature. And it’s the only basis on which we can begin to successfully reverse the degradation of the environment caused by the profit system. The only effective strategy for achieving a free and democratic society, in harmony with nature it to build up a movement which has the achievement of such a society as its sole aim.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

So-called "Marxist" defends religion

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Terry Eagleton, who still claims to be some sort of Marxist, now Professor of English Literature at Manchester University, has done a hatchet job in the current issue of the London Review of Books on Richard Dawkins’s latest book The God Delusion. But he only exposes himself as a victim of that delusion.

Eagleton begins with a witty comparison: "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is The Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology”, suggesting that the study of myths and superstitions can be compared with the science of biology but, since he infers that time-served theologian alone should offer critique of religion, instantly disqualifies himself from comment – Eagleton himself is not a qualified theologian, but a professor of English literature.

The rest of the first paragraph might make you feel that Dawkins had inherited from Bertrand Russell a debt of malice due to Professor Eagleton. With Jesuitical rage he goes for Dawkins’ philosophical jugular with accusations of "vulgar caricatures" of religious faith from those whose detestation of religion is surpassed by ignorance of it. Yes, indeed, it appears that atheists are ill-informed and grossly acerbic.

Actually, Dawkins deals with this type of overbearingly indulgent unbeliever early in his work, only Eagleton, unlike a critic of naked belief, writes like an eager Christian demanding respect not for their right to hold religious opinions but for the opinions themselves.

Essentially, mainstream religious belief is in a Thing, Being or Force called God that either created itself or always existed outside time. God is omnipotent, by definition, therefore, conditionless; He - to use the capitalised pronoun of the scriptures - is omnipresent, even to the falling of a sparrow; He is all-merciful and compassionate yet jealous and vengeful; His strictures are absolute, promising His presence (the Beatific Vision) as eternal reward to those that discern them and who hold to them and terrible, eternal punishment to those who contravene them. Thus the Divine Architect Who according to the various contradictory holy books created the universe and breathed life into matter.

Not only is it an unlikely story but as an explanation for First Cause it is a simple repetition of the question; it is unsupported by any form of factual evidence and is in conflict with all the human experiences and observations encapsulated in science. As for its moral strictures it presents a divine Role Model that is evil beyond the cumulative crimes of the human race.

Outside the bitterness, division and hatreds historically generated by self-interested forces through the medium of religion, civilised society in its limping democracy has learned to tolerate the most outrageous opinions. In a free society the right of someone to hold to an opinion should be sacrosanct but it is an entirely different matter to confuse respect for the right to opinion with respect for opinion and, unlike religion which historically promulgates its right to banns, bars and embargoes Dawkins while exposing the obvious improbability of Godism would no more challenge the right of the religious to their beliefs than he would challenge the right of Darryl M Gill to believe in fairies or Old Mother Hubbard to have her fortune foretold from the leavings in a teapot.

Eagleton nowhere in his harangue convincingly refutes the arguments presented by Dawkins against the God notion. Instead, in pukka religious fashion he slates the messenger and not the message, indeed as a proxy godist he is offended that Dawkins should offer challenge to the innocuous, even benign, influences of belief in a Divine Dictator.

The great bulk of Eagleton’s review is taken up with sanitising the absurdity and vulgarity of religion. What he presents as religion, especially Christianity, is the middle-class, drawing room refined version, the modern last bulwark model behind which science has forced the educated and un-vulgar to retreat; the vintage that is embarrassed by Limbo, virgin birth, resurrection and the ancient Faith of Our Fathers; the type for whom, to quote Eagleton, "…it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist".

Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of religious people throughout the world do not share this polite view of God and religion. Bishops might wax philosophical over their brandy but down below in the real world the same dangerous nonsense can remain maliciously active. Popes may have been forced to learn that statements advising the faithful that the wages of the working man "…ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal well-conducted wage earner" (Pope Leo X111, Rerum Novarum - On the condition of the working classes) but the Papal stricture against contraception (Pope Pius X1, Casti Connubial - on Christain Marriage) is a currently dangerous and evil edict that in places like Gambia helps to frustrate the fight against the terrible scourge of Aids.

As a socialist, my criticism of Dawkins’ approach to the question of religion is that for him it is an academic issue; a mere question of scientific truth as opposed to myths and superstitions. If it was as innocent as that we could be tolerant of it; but it is not. All the main churches are premised on values arising out of property-orientated societies. They act as social suppressants and while Rome - in its silence on the subject - may be less strident in cautioning against democracy than it was heretofore, together with its competitor-colleagues in the God business it offers a bromide against the indignation of the exploited and underscores perverted codes of moral concepts that justifies the exploitation of the many by the few; the right of a privileged economic oligarchy to own and control the means of life of society as a whole and the right of a minority to impose conditions of servitude on the mass.

Eagleton rightly makes the point about Northern Ireland that religion is not the basic cause of conflict; no, indeed, nor is it elsewhere. But it is a viable instrument in the hands of the self-interested in marshalling the battalions of the ignorant to their banner.

Most of the moral strictures of religion are against ‘sins’ like stealing, deceiving, coveting, desiring, killing; effectively activities that in the main arise out of the material conditions rampant in class society and especially in capitalist society. Again they promote the notion that the current form of social servitude is eternal and desirous. Religions throughout the ages have lent themselves either actively or passively to the naked savagery of war, and economic murder apart from the run-of the-mill every-day miseries of capitalism. Sometimes they may rant against the effects of the present system of social organisation but they are both morally and economically embroiled in that system. Canon Law might be proclaimed as superior to civil law but when the capitalist state says ‘kill’ there is no echo from the churches reminding the faithful that they ‘shalt not’.

But the debate between Dawkins and Eagleton is about an abstraction elevated into the genteel and improbable deism of the drawing room or debating chamber. It is far removed from the God of the masses, the God who works for the warlords, the God who strikes fear into the heart of the ignorant, the God who confuses and makes work for psychiatrists. Even Eagleton and the College of Cardinals could not make this tyrant a subject for rational debate.

**********

Then to the rolling Heav’n itself I cried.
Asking, "What lamp had Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And, "A blind understanding!"
Heav’n replied.
(Omar Khayyam)

**********

R. Montague

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

President Bush signs the order to militarise space

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In signing the recent executive order creating a new National Space Policy, President Bush has announced that the US will reject future arms-control agreements that might limit US military manoeuvrability in space. The document further announces that the US “will preserve its rights, capabilities and freedom of action in space ... and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests."

“Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power,” the policy declares and that to “increase knowledge, discovery, economic prosperity, and to enhance the national security, the United States must have robust, effective, and efficient space capabilities.”

One wonders why the US fears other countries may have “hostile” intentions in the use of their space capabilities. Clearly the answer has to be because this is exactly what the US is itself intent on using space for. What else was Clinton’s Star Wars programme all about?

The White House, however, insists that the new policy does not refer to the development or deployment of weapons in space. Indeed, in those sections of the policy made widely available recently, there is no explicit reference to the militarization of space. However, while the policy document insists that the main concern of the US is to “strengthen the nation’s space leadership”, to facilitate “US operations in and through space to defend our interests there”, it boldly asserts that national security is critically dependent upon space capabilities.

Moreover, it calls upon Donald Rumsfeld, the hawkish Defence Secretary and John Negroponte, Director of National Intelligence, to “develop and deploy space capabilities that sustain US advantage and support defence and intelligence transformations.” In this regards the policy document adheres to the militaristic and offensive tone that runs through every national defence document the White House has produced since Dubya’s inauguration.

Clearly, the US dislikes anything perceived as an attempt to muscle in on its standing as the foremost power in space and the world’s leading military power; the two titles now looking likely to merge. Hence, US concerns about the EU’s Galileo project. At the outset, the US feared the project would allow the transfer of state of the art technology to countries it perceives as antagonistic to its interests. What really spooked Washington was the realisation that China was investing ?150 million in Galileo.

Michael Kriepon of the Stimson Centre told the Washington post: “The Clinton administration opened the doors to developing space weapons, but that administration never did anything about it. The Bush policy now goes further.” (The Independent, 19th October).

One wonders just how other countries will now respond to US ambitions for the militarization of space for, make no mistake, this is exactly what Washington’s masters of war have in mind – this is full spectrum dominance in the making. Back in 1999, when Republican hawks celebrated a Senate vote not to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and announced their intention to scupper the 1972 ABM Treaty which outlawed Star Wars missiles systems capable of intercepting incoming missiles, Russian Defence Minister Nikolai Mikolov, acknowledging Russia could not match US technology, declared Russia would simply deploy more warheads capable of overwhelming the US nuclear umbrella system.

Theresa Hitchens of the Washington based Centre for Defence Information said: “You would think that we would have learnt our lessons about the danger of military pre-emptive action and unilateralism in Iraq, yet we are repeating the same policy towards space.” (The Independent, 19th October).

Experts argue that the new space decree has put the US on perilous path in so far as it extends Bush Doctrine policy to a brand new military arena, whilst at the same time discarding endeavours to limit US military ambitions.

National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones, in an attempt to discourage the military significance of the new policy, said: “Technology advances have increased the importance of and use of space…Now, we depend on space capabilities for things like ATMs, personal navigation, package tracking, radio services, and cell phone use.” (Asia Times, 20th October)

What really concerns international observers and the US ‘s budding competitors, and which should concern all of us, is that the US absolutely refuses to negotiate any space arms-control agreement. Washington is promoting the line that because there is currently no space-arms race then there is no need for any such accord – which is utter hypocrisy when one considers the number of actual international agreements in existence, aimed at maintaining the peace, preventing weapons proliferation and the like , that the US refuses to ratify or even acknowledge.

Meanwhile, though, the US Air Force has produced the Counterspace Operations Doctrine, calling for “a more active military posture in space,” and arguing that defence of US satellites and spacecraft necessitates the use of “deception, dirpution, degradation and destruction.” Nothing like a bit alliteration to hammer your message home.

Make no mistake; the militarization of space is now well underway. The very fact that the US is playing down the military dimension of its new space policy is evidence it wants a real head start and to thus be in a position to better oppose any country with similar ambitions.

As we have declared several times in recent years, if we are to prevent the 21st Century becoming a more violent re-run of the 20th, that witnessed two world wars, the first use of nuclear weapons and many hundreds of smaller conflicts – all in the name of profit – it is essential we, the victims, the cannon fodder, the class that has the biggest price to pay to satisfy the whims of the mighty, begin to organise now; not tomorrow when space is militarised, nor in years to come when the sirens are screaming and lasers are zapping the planet from US defence satellites orbiting the earth . We as a class have suffered too much and have too much to lose to leave decisions regarding the future of our planet in the hands of group of arrogant, conceited and profit crazed individuals. Let’s really organise to take their power away now, before it is too late.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sudan: one country, two stories

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Some 200,000 people have died during the present conflict in Darfur, in which militias loyal to the government are charged with committing genocide against the region’s black African population. An estimated 2 million have been made homeless. Starvation, fear and insecurity are an everyday reality for millions of Sudanese.

This is of course not the complete picture, as the New York Times reports. An economic boom is taking place in Sudan – despite western imposed sanctions. In Khartoum, 600 miles away from the epicentre of the humanitarian crisis, posh supermarkets are opening, skyscrapers are reachingupwards, the well-to-do are driving around in brand-spanking-new BMWs and relaxing at home on an evening in front of their plasma screen TVs and munching on Dubya’s favourite snack – Pringles. There is even a Coca Cola plant churning out 100,000 bottles of the tongue-tingling stuff per day - a plant set up by Sudanese investors.

Oil is rapidly turning the country into the fastest growing economy on the planet. While the US and Europe have prevented their countries from investing in Sudan, China, India and Middle Eastern oil states are ignoring Sudan’s appalling human rights record and realising there are profits to be had – investment is pouring in.

Sadly the wealth does not trickle as far as Darfur. Seventy per cent of the oil-gleaned wealth is spent on defence. President Lt-Gen Omar al-Bashir, who came to power in a military coup back in 1989, realises he cannot depend on sourcing weapons contracts outside of Sudan, so has armaments produced and stockpiled at home, less supplies are cut off.

The NYT reports:

“Despite all the new materialism, Sudan still marches to a martial tune. Army officers enjoy special status, foreign visitors must register with the police and schoolchildren are required to wear camouflage uniforms to class. But the boom is changing much about society, from the careers people pursue, to the music they listen to, even what they eat.

“The traditional meal of ful, a bean stew eaten for breakfast and lunch, is giving way to kebabs, yogurt, hamburgers and hot dogs.”

Many believed the US would lift sanctions last year when the government made peace with rebels in the south, but not so. By then the conflict in Darfur was raging and the US became only more pissed off.

The US may well cite Sudan’s human rights record as a reason for not lifting the sanctions, but this is utter hypocrisy – the US has sucked up to the worst human rights offenders around the globe for decades. What really seems to be narking the US is that an oil rich country looked elsewhere for investment and to economic competitors such as China and India.

At the moment US/UN concerns do not bother Khartoum– hence the recent expulsion by the Sudanese government of the UN envoy Jan Pronk and the refusal to allow 22,000 UN peace keepers into the Darfur region (they say it would simply be an attempt to restore colonial rule).

A pressing fear in the business community is that the US might just manage to persuade others to fall in line and also impose sanctions; which just about says it all. To hell that an area of Sudan is war ravaged; to hell that millions are homeless, living lives of utter deprivation; forget that 200,000 have been murdered because of their skin tone, there’s a whiff of profit in the air.

While the Sudanese master class lives it up in fine old style and the US profit merchants fear rising economic powers will get one up on them, via their contracts with Khartoum, it is our fellow workers – the real wealth producers in society - that are left to suffer.

Bush, Blair, Omar al-Bashir, a plague on all your stinking houses.

Monday, October 23, 2006

DUBYA'S OIL CABAL HOMES IN ON IRAQ'S UNTAPPED RESOURCES

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In a lengthy piece on AlterNet, Joshua Holland explains how, as Iraq falls apart, four big oil companies are homing in on the country’s natural resources. If ever an article revealed the stench of corruption emanating from the Iraq saga, this is it.

At a time when major world players are staking their claim to the world’s oil resources, most notably China - an emerging contender for the US no 1 position - it is clear the oil drenched cabal that decides US foreign policy knew exactly what they were doing in dreaming up pretexts to invade Iraq.

Iraq's oil reserves have to be the biggest prize since the end of WWII. The US Department of Energy has stated:

"Iraq contains 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the second largest in the world (behind Saudi Arabia), along with roughly 220 billion barrels of probable and possible resources. Iraq's true potential may be far greater than this, however, as the country is relatively unexplored due to years of war and sanctions."

Moreover, Iraq’s oil is cheap and easy to extract, thus it yields greater profits. James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, observes how oil companies "can produce a barrel of Iraqi oil for less than $1.50 and possibly as little as $1, including all exploration, oilfield development and production costs." Contrast that with other areas where oil is considered cheap to produce at $5 per barrel or the North Sea, where production costs are $12-16 per barrel.

Iraq has more undeveloped oilfields than anywhere on the planet. The "Holy Grail" of the oil fields lies beneath the sand of the immense western desert. There is perhaps enough oil there to propel the country to the global oil reserves number one position.

As Holland comments: “the country's enormous reserves could break the back of OPEC, a wet dream in Western capitals for three decades.”

Read on here...

JB

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Aberfan: the Preventable Disaster.

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Shortly after nine in the morning of October 21st, 1966 one hundred and forty-four people had their lives extinguished beneath thousands of tons of colliery rubbish which had broken away from the tip that dominated the small South Wales village of Aberfan.

No fewer than 116 of the victims were children aged between the ages of 7 and 10.

The Report of the Tribunal that investigated the collapse of the tip concluded that "the disaster was preventable."

Under examination National Coal Board responsible for operating British coal mines stonewalled, and prevaricated, and attempted to evade responsibility. Its chairman Lord Robens interviewed on TV tried to pass it off as some kind of unforeseeable fluke happening.
It took forty-nine days of close cross-examination by the Tribunal before the NCB grudgingly admitted that they were aware of the conditions of Tip 7 and that it had been in a "highly vulnerable state". One official finally admitted under questioning that “there were signs of failure and degrees of failure on the tip from about 1963 onward.”

There had been previous slides of waste in the same area in 1939, 1944, and 1958. Locals in Aberfan had raised concerns regarding the dangerous conditions of the tip. The Borough Engineer had written to the NCB on more than one occasion saying he was “very apprehensive” regarding “the deposit of slurry on the existing tip at the rear of the Pantglas Schools.” Nothing had been done.

As far back as 1939 the then privately owned Powell Dyffryn mine had issued a guidance memorandum outlining safety precautions regarding the tipping of mining waste. It advised a limit to the height of tips; warned not to tip waste over springs of water; and warned not to mix different types of waste. These recommendations were ignored by the NCB. Indeed they had no system of regular tip inspections at all.

The nationalisation of coalmines had been a major plank in the reform programme of the Labour Party elected to office in 1945 and the miners had massive public sympathy. The private coal owners had been perceived as socially irresponsible and money grasping. When the coalmines were nationalised in 1947 the public had been told that in future the mines were to be governed by the NCB “on behalf of the people.”

That was never to be the case. While conditions for the miners improved the mines continued to be run in the interest of profit making. Costs were to be kept to a minimum in the interests of the overall well being of British capitalism. For example while it was technically feasible to put the waste material back underground it was “not economically practicable” the NCB told the Tribunal.

Such a practice would in any case impede “the type of mining necessary to make the industry economically viable.”

So while we remember this tragic loss lets not forget that the children and others killed were the victims of a system that puts money before human life.

GT

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Gangsters in Gaza

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One might almost feel sorry for Yussef Al-Zahar. He is part of the Hamas-controlled "executive force” in recently de-occupied Gaza. After the withdrawal of the Israeli armed forces he says “We have to expect anything…It's a battle of the gangsters now."

His brother was a founder member of Hamas and the one time “moderate” nationalist Al-Zahar is now part of their 5,000 strong paramilitary force hoping to prevent a slide into civil warfare akin to Somalia. Defeated in the recent elections the previous ruling Fatah party is contesting who will have what little power Palestinian rulers will have in an independent Palestinian state.

According to Kevin Periano of Newsweek International:

Gaza is a long way from the days when a militant knew clearly who his enemies were. At one time, Israeli troops seemed like Zahar's most formidable foe. … Yet the most immediate threat to Zahar's life might now come from his own countrymen. After ten Palestinians were killed and 100 wounded in running gun battles two weeks ago—the bloodiest episode of infighting since the Islamist group took power—Fatah militants issued a leaflet calling for the assassination of Zahar and two other key Hamas figures.

Hamas won the election fairly. But in the Middle East it is not enough to be elected democratically -- the representatives must fit in with the plans of the world’s biggest powers. And because they have used terrorist tactics – like the founders of the state of Israel before them – they have had financial subsidies withdrawn. It is the subsequent hardship this has caused that is behind the rise in the crimes committed by the poverty stricken against the poverty stricken.

The other far more dangerous violence simmering below the surface is involves the question of who will rule in the hoped for new state. It is a question of little concern to the working class.

New exploiters are waiting in the wings in the hope of new investment opportunities.


GT

Road Sign To Freedom

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The principal challenge facing socialists is how to get from the present state of the world, formed out of production for profit and a “free market” economy, to the desired one of democratically controlled production for use and free access to goods and services. There is only one way. That way is for a vast majority of the population to come to understand socialist principles, organize into a democratic body and act as a majority to abolish capitalism by popular vote. [READ MORE]

From the October issue of News From Nowhere, the monthly newsletter of the Socialist Party of Canada and the World Socialist Party of the United States.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Torture now on the US statute books

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No this is not a photo of George Bush aides and supporters applauding Dubya on signing his name unassisted, and neither is this Bush signing some international treaty intended to benefit humanity. This photo, taken yesterday, shows President Bush being applauded for signing the Military Commissions Act 2006, which authorises the brutal interrogation of terror suspects.

It can be queried why harsh interrogation tactics needed the presidential stamp of approval. After all the US has detained without trial, without access to legal counsel, and tortured prisoners for the last three years at Guantanamo Bay and at holding centres such as the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. As far as the White House is concerned, such prisoners are exempt from protection under the Geneva Convention.

Signing the new Act, Bush said: "Every member of the Congress who voted for this bill has helped our nation rise to the task that history has given us. Some voted to support this bill even when a majority of their party voted the other way.

"...This bill spells out specific recognizable offenses that would be considered crimes in the handling of detainees so that our men and women who question captured terrorists can perform their duties to the fullest extent of the law."

What Bush is really saying is that US security organisations, such as the CIA, can now use whatever interrogation techniques they need and without fear of prosecution. This is of course nothing new. On 20th December 2000, Congress passed a law (114 STAT. 2840 Public law 1-6-56 Dec.27.2000) providing full protection to any agent acting outside the law and under orders from the Director of Central Intelligence.

Human rights activists may well protest, but with an estimated 650,000 Iraqis already killed since the US invasion, with control of the world's oil and gas supplies at stake and with the US hell bent on securing that control, an additional few hundred tortured unfortunates is a price worth paying.


JB

The future ascent (and descent) of man

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Yesterday's papers reported on a study on the future evolution of humanity which concluded that "within 100,000 years the divide between rich and poor could lead to two human subspecies". The Times further reported:

"Dr Curry, a research associate in the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science of the London School of Economics, speculated that privileged humans might over tens of thousands of years evolve into a “gracile” subspecies, tall, thin, symmetrical, intelligent and creative. The rest would be shorter and stockier, with asymmetric features and lower intelligence, he said."

This assumes of course that capitalism and class society will be able to, or be allowed to, continue for 100,000 years (whereas capitalism has only been going for 500 years at most and class society only for some 10,000). Which shows just how unimaginative Dr Curry was. But then, he had been hired to come up with something sensational to advertise a television channel.

The working class of the future? As The Times commented: "Dr Curry's vision echoes that of H. G. Wells in The Time Machine. He envisaged a race of frail, privileged beings, the Eloi, living in a ruined city and coexisting uneasily with ape-like Morlocks (above) who toil underground and are descended from the downtrodden workers of today. "

Monday, October 16, 2006

Capitalism Still Fails to Feed the Hungry

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Today's Independent makes grim reading:

Today should have been a day for a celebratory feast. Exactly 10 years ago 176 world leaders at the World Food Summit pledged to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015.
Instead it is a day for commiseration and recrimination. More than 850 million are still hungry - some 18 million more than in 1996.


The article cites some statistics at the end:

Food facts
* 852 million people still go hungry. In 1990 the figure was 824 million
* Six million children die from hunger each year
* We have enough food to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories per person per day


The reason for failure is placed on lack of investment, lack of political will - everything but the way society is organised. Given there is no problem in providing a sufficient diet for everyone, perhaps we should be looking at a different solution?

(The rest of the article is here.)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

"Kill 'em all"

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After the fantasy of shoot-em-up video games the young man found reality a little hard to take.

He might have seemed to be ideal military material.

He was “hard”. Violence came easily to him.

In February last year he enlisted in his country’s armed forces.

He enjoyed the life of the basic training camp – it’s friendships, a regular wage, a sense of common purpose. He claimed that he was proud to serve.

He looked forward to some “action.”

On hearing that he was to be posted to Iraq he bragged that he was going to “…go over there and kill �em all.”

But like so many before him he found the reality of war too much to bear. He suffered the loss of friends in battle. He turned out not to be the natural born killer we are told we all really are underneath.

“I thought it’d be cool to kill people, but I saw my buddy get shot in the face. It’s not pretty.”

His behaviour led his comrades in arms to believe that he was trying to get out of his commitment.

It was not long before the army realised they had a misfit on their hands.

He was honourably discharged for what the arm termed a “personality disorder.” Seven weeks later he was arrested and charged with the rape of and subsequent murder of an Iraqi girl, and with the murder of her family.

Under pressure to recruit more young men to fight in a war that was not supposed to go on as long as it has army recruitment standards have been lowered. Prior to the invasion of Iraq one in five new soldiers were “weeded out” within six months of joining. Currently less than half that number is. This man slipped through the net and subsequently brought dishonour upon the army in which he served.

Any number of points could be made from the retelling of this sad tale.

This young man was possibly psychologically disturbed before he entered the army. His experiences while in the army may have brutalised him further.

He was fighting on behalf of interests that were not his. He owned no share of the spoils over which the fighting is taking place. A young girl and her family – strangers to the perpetrator – are now dead.

And the army has another publicity disaster on its hands because while authorised killing is expected and allowed, unauthorised killing is bad public relations.

What? Another Blog?

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So here is another Blog.

Given time and effort it will make a case for a post capitalist society.

We aim to provide comment and analysis from an uncompromising Socialist point of view.

We will make no pretence to objectivity.

We will present a no nonsense case for ending the present way of running the common affairs of humanity.

We will present a political programme based on fact and argument. A programme that we know can be understood by anyone willing to give it consideration.

The challenges before us all can be simply put:

Do we continue to put up with a world of poverty amid a potential for plenty?

Do we continue to endure international quarrels and the threat or reality of war?

Do we remain the victims of a world in which others take the decisions that affect our lives?

Do we continue to inhabit a world run in the interests of a small minority?

Or do we take up the challenge of organising politically to end the capitalist system in all its forms?

Capitalism produces only so long as there is a profit to be made.

Capitalism is a system where human needs are subservient to the market.

Capitalism is a system that is ripe for replacement.

It can be ended when a majority of us decide to do so and know what needs to be done.

We will not present ourselves as intellectual giants but simply as men and women from the class in society that produces and distributes the useful goods and services on which society depends for its existence.

We are members of the working class and in this blog we will appeal to our fellow workers on the basis of a common class interest.

Across the world workers have one interest in common – the establishment of a society of common ownership and democratic control of the world we all inhabit.

The interests that unite workers wherever they live are vastly greater than the supposed differences that divide.

Welcome to Socialism or Your Money Back

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After much deliberation, the Socialist Party has launched its own blog.

We hope to present a socialist take on the world of politics that will prove both informative and spark interesting debate.

As with all new beginnings, there are still a few creases to be ironed out, or perhaps some we will find - that we hadn't thought of - in the coming weeks or months. So please bear with us!

The title of the blog derives from a book published to mark the 100th anniversary of the Socialist Party and its official monthly journal, the "Socialist Standard", back in 2004.

We hope you enjoy the blog and look forward to your comments on the posts.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

HAIN'S ACES

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November 24 is the deadline by which the Northern Irish politicians must settle their differences - or lose their salaries. We look at the historical background.

Peter Hain, once the enfant terrible of the Young Liberals and now the Secretary of State for both Wales and Northern Ireland, obviously retains the personal ambition that motivated his career move from ill-disciplined youth activist to ruthless Labour politician. Peter is now in the throes of a major political gamble that could be the prelude to even higher, if not the highest, political office. If he has some understanding of the roots of the “Irish Problem” he might judge that history is on his side but, on the other hand, his odds might be blighted by the possibility of the Blair clique doing for Labour what the monomaniacal Thatcher did for the Tories. Both Blair and Hain have to know that a final, peaceful resolution of the Irish question would bestow on them a niche in history.

Now that the practicalities of governing have exposed the role of politicians as simply time-serving careerists there seems to have developed a rush among some political leaders and aspirants to that role to seek such a niche. Blair inherited from Major what he perceived to be an opportunity to draw a line under the notorious problem which for the past hundred years has wrought revenge on British politicians for inventing and on the Tories for using the infamous “Orange Card” in their earlier struggles with the Liberals.

To be fair, Blair has devoted a considerable amount of time and effort in trying to lay the ghost of the several Government of Ireland Acts which the British Parliament has imposed on Ireland. Peter Hain has not got so much time; he's a man in a hurry, probably with the whiff of opportunities arising from the stench of conflict within the leadership of the Labour Party. With the arrogant contempt of a colonial governor for the local politicians he has told them that they have three months to bury their ancient enmities or he will sack them, stop their plum salaries and bloated expenses and give permanence to the coterie of unelected Labour nonentities currently mismanaging affairs in Northern Ireland. The deadline is 24 November.

Hain holds a couple of aces. Freed from the fear of an injured electorate taking revenge, his administration has threatened massive rates increases and new and additional water charges, the latter especially to fund decaying infrastructure that was neglected over three decades of financing the war against the Provisional IRA. Indeed, Hain can already claim a minor victory in creating an issue that uniquely unites Unionists, Nationalists and Republicans in the conviction that the proposed charges are intended to coerce them into a spurious legislative unity, for the stick comes with the carrot that if they re-establish the Northern Ireland Assembly it can legislate on the proposed charges.

Particularly cruel to Paisley, who founded a most lucrative political career on ranting against the Pope and the Republic of Ireland, is Blair's additional threat that if the northern politicians do not co-operate in a local Assembly, the Government of the Republic - already enjoying a meaningful input into northern affairs - will be invited to work more closely with the British government in administering the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Politically, the strongest party on the Unionist side is Paisley's so-called Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) whose political appeal is to traditional Protestant bigotry, which was supplemented at the last elections by Protestant detestation of the IRA. Conversely, the DUP's main opponent and recipient of the majority of Catholic votes is Sinn Fein (SF) or the political face of the IRA.

In other words, it is the old enmities that sustain politics in Northern Ireland and the big question for the principal political contenders - especially the DUP - is whether those traditional enmities can surmount the harsh financial reality of substantially increased rates and charges. Will individual members of the public feel they are paying dearly for the lack of co-operation among the politicians and might significant numbers be persuaded that the bigoted absurdities they have been voting for have become too expensive?

Second political ace

In the past the Northern Ireland economy was based principally on large labour-intensive industries. Belfast, for example, boasted the largest shipyard in the world with all that that implied in ancillary industries. Again, in rope making and linen manufacture it was an international leader and in aircraft production and light engineering it had a substantial presence. New technologies embraced by more dynamic competitors have rendered most of this industrial activity redundant and today employment is sustained largely by small localised companies much more vulnerable to the effects of swingeing increases in their on-costs.

The Northern Ireland state was established in 1921 by Westminster enactment; it was demographically tailored to ensure that the almost-exclusively Protestant majority that was hostile to Irish unity could impose a permanent minority status on the almost-exclusively Catholic minority that wanted unity. Interestingly, a brief look at the material circumstances that created the politics of division and the establishment of two separate - and hostile - states in Ireland might reveal Hain's second political ace.

Queen Elizabeth 1 died in 1603 and her successor, the Anglicised Scottish monarch, James 1, agreed to the colonisation of Ulster by Scottish and English planters. There is contention around the issue of the extent to which the Scots were Gaelic-speaking lowlanders but they were distinguished from the native Catholic Gaels in that they were mostly Presbyterians and, of course, they were used to dispossess the natives of their lands.

The newcomers established a dynamic colony. Whereas the native Irish had few skills beyond those associated with farming, the planters brought with them skills like spinning and weaving that would later form the basis of new industries. Further, unlike the native Irish in the rest of the country, whose miserably small holdings were held without security of lease, the planters were able to use their vital place in the strategy of the English government to establish what became known as Ulster Custom and which gave them security of tenure, fixity of rent and the freedom to sell and profit from their leases.

Throughout the rest of the country the majority of the people endured a hand-to-mouth existence. Such trade as existed took the form largely of urban merchants trading in wool and importing goods for the landed gentry. As far as the peasantry, the generality of the people, was concerned, a money economy was virtually absent and, with capital accumulation thus restricted, only a weak middle class without the political and economic clout of its Ulster counterpart could slowly emerge.

By the late 19th century, however, widespread political agitation forced land reform and the gradual ending of the iniquitous system of landlordism. So a more vibrant middle class in the south began to use its substantial representation in the British House of Commons as a bargaining counter between the Whigs and the Tories in a struggle for a measure of Home Rule that would allow an Irish legislature to protect native industry with tariffs and import quotas. Firstly the Irish Parliamentary Party and after 1905 Sinn Fein politicised the demand for an Irish Parliament and trade protection.

“Home Rule is Rome Rule”

The demand struck horror into the Northern capitalists whose large industries had developed apace with those of the north-west of England after the Industrial Revolution and were based on access to the British home market and the benefits of what was then known as Empire Preference.

The result was a serious dichotomy within Irish capitalism. Ulster industrialists made it clear to a Select Committee of the British parliament that separation from the British and Empire markets and from their primary source of energy within an all-Ireland state practising trade protection would be ruinous. Conversely, the emerging capitalists in the south were equally insistent that their nascent industries could only prosper within a protectionist economy.

It was the classic basis of conflict and war but armies are largely comprised of workers and they are not recruited on the blatant expression of the needs of capitalists; they have to be given reasons why they should fight and it is the job of the politicians to conjure up those reasons. In the case of Ulster the Unionist politicians employed bitter religious sectarianism, raising the slogan “Home Rule is Rome Rule”; in the south the nationalists and republicans used emotionalised nonsense about freedom with an infusion of faith and all enshrined in the need to support the demands of Irish native capitalism.

Today

Thus the economic basis of the political fictions that were injected deeply into the vein of the working class on both sides to give them a cause to kill for - to kill their fellow worker in a struggle wholly concerned with the interests of each side within a divided capitalist class.

The hatreds and division have endured, fuelled by the fascist-style posturings of Paisley and his politico-religious ilk and complemented by the inanity of the IRA, whose nonsensical analysis of the Irish problem led them to become murderous sectarians perpetuating an ongoing conflict.

But unlike the situation that gave rise to the division of Ireland in 1921, today there is no class interest involved. Now there are amicable relations between the capitalists north and south with each eager to trade and co-operate in each other's territory and each vociferous in its forceful condemnation of violence and unlawful political activity. Britain and Ireland are both members of the EU and it is only when you have passed over the unmanned Irish border that the change in the road signs from miles to kilometres lets you know that you have changed countries.

The political face of the Provisional IRA, Sinn Fein, is cringingly obsequious in its efforts to be part of the government of Northern Ireland despite the fact that the raison d'ĂŞtre behind its establishment in 1970 was the destruction of the northern state. Its interests lie south of the Border where its participation in the executive of a northern administration would give a substantial fillip to its electoral fortunes, making it a natural coalition ally of Ahern's Fianna Fail.

Paisley shows little appetite for reconciliation. The same bigoted mentality that some forty years ago had him throwing snowballs at the car of a visiting Irish Taoiseach still dominates his political consciousness but reality now impels his party towards an overt reconciliation with nationalists and republicans. Whether that can be achieved on or before 24 November when the British and Irish governments categorically affirm they will effectively sack all the local Assembly members is a moot question. One suspects that Paisley's lieutenants are quite anxious to weep at the bier of their inflexible master.