Sunday, April 29, 2007

Charity versus equity

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Just before Christmas last year a letter arrived from Action Aid citing a number of manifestations of the iniquities of global capitalism. The letter was an appeal for funds, specifically for the ‘Global Campaign for Education’ to ‘make sure the governments of the world keep their promise to provide free primary education for all by 2015.’

Action Aid stressed that a donation isn’t a hand-out or an imposed solution but a project that puts power, decision-making and responsibility back into the hands of a whole community. In fact the appeal had a letter within the letter. Two teenage Guineans appealing by letter for the world’s poorest people to the people of Europe, wanting to give their message of a life of poverty in Africa, believing that the people of Europe could bring a solution. All they wanted was education, the key they believed to a better life in their home country. They said that because their families were poor the choice was between food and education. In attempting to carry their letter to Europe (believing their oral message may not reach its destination) they both perished in the undercarriage of the plane in which they’d stowed away, but their message did arrive in Brussels International Airport with their dead 14 and 15 year old bodies.

The main points of their letter were wishing to seek help with the development of Africa; help to fight poverty; and to bring war to an end in Africa. (Guinea, with a population of about 9 million, shares borders with Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau and has had to contend with tens of thousands of refugees and numerous cross-border incursions in the last decade.) Finally, ‘however, our greatest need is education.’

No doubt Action Aid and other charities, through generous donations, are able to make a dent in alleviating some of the pressing problems affecting impoverished societies in Africa and other areas of the world, but these can only be dents because they don’t aim to change the system to one that can continue to support all societies in an equitable and sustainable manner.

Appropriate development such as desired by local communities, poverty elimination, an end to war everywhere and universal lifelong education are some of the fundamental principles of socialism as are power, decision-making and responsibility to be firmly in the hands of the people.

Certainly, support and compassion are needed meantime, but just imagine teams of people like these already established with logistics skills, people on the ground experienced in organising, a worldwide workforce empathetic to the importance of working for and with the community for common goals, at the time when the majority of the world’s people – in Africa, in Europe, in Asia and the Americas – are intent on working together with the sole aim of establishing a socialist world for the benefit of all, with no hindrance of class, race, colour, religion or wealth.

What better tribute could we give to these two courageous youths and to the thousands of others dying daily from malnutrition and preventable and curable diseases than to double our efforts at bringing about an end to the horrific, inhumane system called capitalism and replacing it with one based upon common ownership and democratic control by and in the interest of the whole community?
JS

Friday, April 27, 2007

Nats whae hae?

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Nationalism is anathema to socialists. Wage and salary workers have no country. We have more in common with people like ourselves in other countries than with the privileged owning class of the country where we happen to live and work. The world-wide working class has a common interest, to end its exploitation and solve its problems, to join together to establish a world without frontiers in which the resources of the planet will have become the heritage of all, so that there can be production to meet needs and not for profit. One world, one people, where cultural differences will still be celebrated, but where we’ll all be citizens of the world.

It is clear, then, why socialists don’t take sides in the debate, aired in the current elections to the Scottish Parliament, about whether it is better for workers there to be ruled from Edinburgh (as the SNP says) or from London with a little help from Edinburgh (as say the British Nationalists of the Labour, Liberal and Tory parties).

The SNP argues that the problems facing workers in Scotland are due to “Westminster rule”. If only there was an independent Scotland, they say, separate from the rest of Britain, then there would be full employment, higher wages, job security, better state benefits, a healthy health service and all the other things politicians promise at election times. This view is echoed by the so-called Scottish “Socialist” Party and Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity (with Sheridan) party. But it is patently absurd.

This would be a purely political, not to say mere constitutional, change which would leave the basic economic structure of society unchanged. There would still be a privileged class owning and controlling the means of production with the rest having to work for them for a living. Just as now. Maybe the pillar boxes would be painted tartan but that would be about all.

An independent Scottish government would still have to operate within the constraints of the world capitalist system. It would still have to ensure that goods produced in Scotland were competitive on world markets and that capitalists investing in Scotland were allowed to make the same level of profits as they could in other countries.

In other words, it would still be subject to the same economic pressures as the existing London-based government to promote profits and restrict wages and benefits. And as the government of Ireland, which broke away from the United Kingdom in 1922 and where things have never been any different. Not even the national state capitalism proposed by the SSP and Sheridan would make any difference. As in Cuba, exports would still have to be competitive and popular consumption restricted to achieve this.

Since it is this class-divided, profit-motivated society that is the cause of the problems workers face in Scotland, as in England and in the rest of the world, so these problems will continue, regardless of whether Scotland separates from or remains part of the United Kingdom.

The SNP is promising a referendum in 2010. What an irrelevant waste of time and energy that would be, but it’s their alibi. If they get to form the regional government of Scotland their excuse for not delivering (as capitalism won’t let them) will be that their hands were tied and that their promises will only be able to be honoured after separation. Some of their naïve, lower-level members may believe thus, but we don’t think too many other workers will be fooled. They will have switched their votes to them, not because they want a breakaway Scotland but as a protest against the Labour Party.

So, the SNP leaders will be the prisoner of their non-separatist voters and will have to settle down to life as regional politicians. Not that that will necessarily displease them if they get to be regional ministers. Which, as professional politicians, is probably their realistic aim anyway.

Our opposition to the SNP should not be interpreted as support for the Union or the Labour, Liberal or Tory parties that back it. We are just as opposed to them. A plague on both their houses is what we say. To adapt a slogan, Neither London nor Edinburgh, but World Socialism.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Socialist Party leaflet being distributed in Wales for the elections to the Welsh Assembly

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Their Wales or Our World?

That's the issue in this election, says The Socialist Party

On 3 May, you will have your occasional ration of democracy with the opportunity to vote for the glorified county council known as the Welsh Assembly.

It's all very well having a vote—but are you normally given any real choice? Let's face it, if it wasn't for the politician's head on the front of the election leaflet, could you tell which party was which?

It's tempting—in the absence of any real alternative—to get drawn into the phoney war that is political debate today. Whether Labour or Plaid Cymru, Lib Dem or Tory, they all spout the same promises. And it all amounts to the same thing—they offer no alternative to the present way of running society.

Do you really think who wins an election makes any difference to how you live?

And do politicians (whether leftwing, nationalist or rightwing) actually have much real power anyway? OK, they get to open supermarkets and factories, but it's capitalism and the market system which closes them down.

Reality Check

Do any of the political parties address any of the real issues:
Why is there world hunger in a world of food surpluses?
Why are there unemployed nurses, alongside closed-down hospitals and waiting lists?
Why are there homeless people in the streets and empty houses with "for sale" signs?
Why do some people get stressed working long hours while others get stressed from the boredom of unemployment?

So what's the alternative?


We in THE SOCIALIST PARTY are not standing at this election ourselves but we still are putting forward an alternative to capitalism and the madness of the market—a society of common ownership and democratic control. We call it socialism.

But real socialism. Not the elite-run dictatorships that collapsed a few years ago in Russia and East Europe. And not the various schemes for state control put forward by the old Labour Party. For us socialism means something better than that. We're talking about:

A world community without any frontiers.
Wealth being produced to meet people's needs and not for sale on a market or for profit Everyone having access to what they require to satisfy their needs, without the rationing system that is money.
A society where people freely contribute their skills and experience to produce what is needed, without the compulsion of a wage or salary.

If you don't like present-day society ... if you are fed up with the way you are forced to live ... if you think the root cause of most social problems is the market system, then your ideas echo closely with ours.

We are not promising to deliver socialism to you. We are not putting ourselves forward as leaders. This new society can only be achieved if you join together to strive for it. If you want it, then it is something you have to bring about yourselves.

If you agree with this, you’ll obviously not want to vote for any of the candidates on offer. But you can show you want real socialism by writing WORLD SOCIALISM across your ballot paper.

And if you want to know more about us and our aims in this election, phone Swansea Branch of the Socialist Party on 01792-463506. Or come to one of our regular meetings at Unitarian Church, High St (next to Argos) on the second Monday of each month at 7.30 – all welcome. Or send off this reply coupon (no stamp required) for further information and for a free 3-month subscription to our journal the Socialist Standard.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Child poverty increases again under New Labour

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Back in 1965, when the Child Poverty Action Group was formed, there were 500,000 children living in poverty. The Labour Party said at the time that the organisation would fold within a year because they would eradicate child poverty within the next 12 months.

Replying to a letter from the CPAG on 20th January 2006, Tony Blair confidently wrote:” I can promise you that we share your ambition to make child poverty history in our country. It is why we have publicly said we want to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it completely by 2020. ”What is nauseating about this is that Blair is telling the CPAG, who in 1965 complained that there were officially half a million children in poverty, that by 2010 he will halve child poverty – ie. slash the number of impoverished children from 3.4 million to 1.7 million (in Jan 2006 child poverty stood at 3.4 million).

Today The Guardian reports that child poverty now stands at 3.8 million!! 42 years after Labour promised to end child poverty, the problem officially is almost seven times as worse!!

Of course, come May 3rd, Blair and co will continue to depend on working class historical amnesia to carry them through, confident their lies and betrayals and rampant hypocrisy will be concealed by surfeit of promises for the future and pathetic excuses for past failings. Incidentally, if you do suffer from political amnesia, try clicking on this remedy: LABOUR SLEAZE
JB

Two Children, Two Different Lives

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Picture: Princess Mary of Denmark and daughter. (Source: Jan Sommer, "Ekstra Bladet".)

The major news in Denmark for the past few days has been the birth of Crown Prince Frederick and Princess Mary's second child, a little girl.

Don't bother trying to switch TV or radio channels or buying a newspaper as that's basically all they seem to cover. To make matters doubly worse, Mary is a "commoner" from Australia, so we've had to listen to how the Aussie media have reported this. Danish TV has also been busy bothering ex-pat Australians for their sage comments. (Australians are enamoured with their Danish Princess).

Normally I wouldn't bother commenatating on such mind numbingly unimportant news. Men and women make babies all the time after all, a fact that even the Danish tabloid press must have picked up at some time.

There was a comment on a news programme that really irritated me. The reporter remarked, without any pause or embarrassment, that the Royals' new born will live a vastly different life to that of the other children born on the same day, at that same hospital.

This is in fact true. Those other children - I believe the figure was 12 - will not live lives of luxury, where every care and whim will be satiated. Their future will be badly underfunded schools that exist to churn out compliant wage slaves to meet the demands of business. Their futures will be stressing over mortgages or the electricity bill; of finding the money to make the household budget go around, perhaps even being in the harsh situation of standing in an unemployment line. Their future will be uncertain if they get ill with the health cuts and waiting lists and with the deterioating pensions.

But why stop at those 12, that day, in a nook of Denmark. On that day, other children were born, in say Africa. We shall never hear of these children. There will be no mass media presence at their birth. One of those children I shall call +1.

+1 doesn't have access to clean drinking water. +1 was lucky to be born at all given the high mortality rate there due to lack of proper midwife care. +1 will not live to be 5. Starvation or sickness caused by malnutrition will kill +1.

We shall only know +1 as another individual added to the statistics over needless deaths which our world could avoid were production geared solely to meet human need rather than production for the market with a view to making profit for all the parasites of the world: the capitalists and princes and ponces.
Congratulations to Frederick and Mary for sure; it is thrilling to be a parent. It is sickening though that one life is deemed more worthy of celebration than others.

Gray

Monday, April 23, 2007

OH NO, NOT ANOTHER ELECTION LEAFLET!

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Yes, but hang on - this one's different.
THAT'S WHAT THEY ALL SAY!
They don't all mean it, though. And they don't all know what they're talking about!
HOW ARE YOU DIFFERENT?
We're not promising you anything.
SO WHAT ARE YOU DOING THEN?
Asking you to think. Then vote for yourself. For a change.


What Are The Mainstream Parties Offering?

The usual platitudes of course. Some unexciting and probably insincere promises which won't make much difference to the quality of our lives. Consider what's on offer from the usual suspects - New Labour, Tories, Lib-Dems - all totally committed to maintaining and defending the profit system, and serving the interests of the minority Capitalist Class. Labour, whether New or Old, has never aimed at anything more than managing capitalism. Maybe more crumbs for the workers - but only if the profit system allows it.

But what about the BNP?

Same again! Like the others, they want to keep the working class divided because they know that way we are more easily ruled over. They want us to blame our fellow workers for the problems which capitalism causes. They try to turn us against ourselves - blaming immigrants, or Muslims, or non-whites instead of understanding that it's the profit system itself which is the problem.

The BNP like to pose as a radical alternative to the mainstream parties of Labour, Conservative and the Lib-Dems. The fact that these parties seem united in regarding the BNP as 'beyond the pale' serves to bolster the BNP's image. But what neither they nor the mainstream can ever acknowledge are some fundamental things which they share in common. Chief among these is that in supporting one variety of capitalism or another, all these parties are fundamentally anti-working class.

The mainstream parties have long used the tactic of 'divide and rule' to keep us - the majority - in our place. Instead of realising what we have in common as a class, we are taught to regard our fellow workers as being the enemy, or the cause of our problems. The BNP's version of this, of course, is its rabid nationalism. But when the BNP talk of putting 'Britain' first, it simply means putting the interests of the ruling class first! You can't just wish away the reality of class division, and the interests of Blair, Cameron, Branson etc. are most certainly NOT the same as the interests of the working class in Britain. We have far more in common with our fellow workers elsewhere than we have with those who rule over us, and swapping Labour or Tory for BNP won't alter that.

The BNP hits out at symptoms but fails to understand causes. Take immigration for instance. Immigrants are, quite simply, our fellow workers. They are NOT the cause of unemployment, they are NOT the cause of overcrowding, they are NOT the cause of crime. These things are caused by the system of production for profit; in fact, capitalism itself. It is the profit system which forces employers to drive wages down by importing cheaper labour, but the BNP have no wish to tackle this system - in effect, they think it's ok for the ruling class to exploit the rest of us.

They also think we need leaders to do things for us - only with them being in charge instead of the present rulers.

Think Local or Think Global?
This may be a local election, but it's impossible to separate the everyday local issues from the wider social system we live under. Councillors aren't necessarily lying when they say there's not enough funds for the things people want funding for - they point to National Government and say they don't get enough from them. But the job of National Government; is to run the profit system - that's the number one priority and people will always come second to that in capitalism.

If we want to improve things we are going to have to act for ourselves. We're going to have to organise democratically to bring about a society geared to meeting human needs, not profits. But production for use (not profit) is only possible on the basis of genuine common ownership and democratic co-operation - what we call socialism.

This kind of society may seem like a million miles away, but remember we already have the resources and technology to make it possible! After all, this is a world of plenty. What prevents us from enjoying it is class division. Under capitalism, only a tiny minority of the world have ownership and control over the economy. The vast majority of us have nothing except our ability to work which we are then obliged to sell to the minority. WE are the ones who create all wealth in society - but then we hand it over to the minority, the capitalist class!

One World. One People
We have a world to win. The Socialist Party cannot bring this about on your behalf, and we're not promising to. As workers ourselves all we promise is to play our part in bringing about a sane and rational democratic society where we collectively make the decisions that affect us without needing to worry about how to pay. A society where meeting our needs is the only priority!

So don't waste a vote on any of the various 'Capitalist Parties' - as there are no socialists standing in this election, if you want a society of common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit, then please express your agreement by writing "WORLD SOCIALISM" across your ballot paper and cross out the names of the various 'Capitalist Party' representatives.

The Socialist Party
What happens in this city depends mainly on what happens in the country and even in the world. That is why socialists are working for a different world. But it can't happen unless you join us. The job of making a better world must be the work of all of us.

Since 1904 The Socialist Party has completely opposed the idea of leadership; has rejected all forms of nationalism and advocated a world without borders; and has opposed both the phoney 'socialism' of the Labour Party and the state-capitalist dictatorship of the Soviet Union.

The world we want is one where we all work together. Co-operation is in our interests and this is how a socialist community would be organised - through democracy and through working with each other.

To co-operate we need democratic control not only in our own area, but by people everywhere. This means that all places of industry and manufacture, all the land, transport, shops etc. should be owned in common by the whole community. That way we could all enjoy free access to what we need without the barriers of buying and selling.

FOR A WORLD OF GENUINE COMMON OWNERSHIP AND FREE ACCESS!

An End To Pessimism

We, in the Socialist Party, reject the view that things will always stay the same. We CAN change the world. Nothing could stop a majority of socialists building a new society run for the benefit of everyone. We all have the ability to work together in each other's interests. All it takes is the right ideas and a willingness to make it happen. So why not visit our website at www.worldsocialism.org/spgb and read about the real Socialist alternative in our magazine, the Socialist Standard?

- leaflet distribution in areas in England where the Socialist Party is not standing candidates.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

More evolved than thou

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“Chimps are ahead of humans in the great evolutionary race” ran a silly headline in The Times last Tuesday. Silly, because there is no such thing as any great evolutionary race.

Scientists have discovered, from studying the genes of humans and chimpanzees, that since the time six or seven million years ago, when the common ancestor of both existed, there are more changed genes in chimps than in humans.

Apparently, this came as a surprise and we should now no longer say that humans are “more evolved” than chimps. This could only be in a rather restricted sense of the term “more evolved” to mean “more genetically changed” since it is obvious that in every other sense humans are the more evolved. Otherwise, why was the research not carried out by chimps?

The key thing about “human nature” compared with “chimpanzee nature” is the biologically-evolved nature and capabilities of the human brain. The genetic structure as a whole of chimps may have changed more than that of humans compared with the common ancestor of both, but the changes that have occurred in chimps have brought them to an evolutionary dead end. They may have evolved more to fit in better with their particular environment but this leaves them vulnerable to changes in that environment since they have no control over it.

The genetic changes in the line that led to humans, on the other hand, led to a species that can not only adapt its behaviour to live in a great variety of environments but which is capable of actively changing its environment. Since modern humans evolved 150,000 or so years ago, human evolution has been social rather than biological. Humans have acquired in culture, in particular in the tools and instruments we have developed to acquire and shape what we need from the rest of nature, a non-biological way of adapting, which has enabled us to adapt more quickly to our environment than biological evolution through natural selection ever would or could.

The knowledge we have acquired to understand and change our environment – nearly everything we see around us is the product of human intervention – shows that we are far superior to chimpanzees in the way we are equipped to survive in nature. We can in fact do far better if we realise that capitalism, with the problems it causes for the lives of most humans and indeed for many other species, is merely one of our non-biological adaptations to survive in nature. But one that has proved to be no longer the best fitfed for this purpose.

Fortunately, the other non-biological adaptations we have developed in the tools for obtaining what we need from nature (the means and instruments of production) and in the knowledge of how to use and develop them, and more recently of their effects on the rest of nature, allow us to rectify this. We can further evolve socially by making these tools the common heritage of the whole species and using our knowledge of how to use them to produce enough food, shelter, clean water, health care, education and other amenities for every single person on the planet while at the same time maintaining a sustainable relationship with the rest of nature.

The next stage in social evolution, in other words, is socialism.
ALB


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wish it were the seventies?

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We’ve just been sent a review copy of Capitalism Unleashed by Andrew Glynn (OUP, £16.99). We are not sure why as it came out in March 2006. Still, as they say, you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Those (like us) with long memories will recall that Glynn was the co-author of a Penguin Special that came out in 1972 called British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze. In it he and his fellow author (Bob Sutcliffe) argued that capitalism, at least in Britain, had been brought to a life-or-death crisis because working class militancy, on the one hand, and international competition, on the other, had squeezed profits, the life-blood of the system without which it couldn’t survive. One more push from the workers, they suggested, and capitalism could be overthrown.

The only danger they saw was that the workers would be betrayed by the reformist leaders of the TUC who would hold them back (it’s this word “betrayal” which is the clue that they were some kind of Trotskyist; Glynn later became involved in Militant). We ourselves were sceptical about the whole analysis, suggesting that they were greatly exaggerating trade union “power” and that the crisis was not a life-or-death one but just a phase of the ordinary business cycle which capitalism goes through and from which it would recover sooner or later (see our review in February 1973 Socialist Standard). Actually, it turned out to be a bigger turning-point than we thought, as capitalism has never since returned to the “never-had-it-so-good” days of the 50s and 60s.

In any event, capitalism did survive. So what does Glynn think now? Modern-day, “unleashed” capitalism, he says, has its problems (financial turbulence, corporate corruption, etc) but cannot be said to be in a state of crisis in the sense of the Oxford University dictionary definition of “the point in the progress of a disease when an important development or change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death” that he believed it to have been in in the 70s. In fact, his view is that there is now no alternative to capitalism on the horizon, so all we’ve got is a choice of different kinds of capitalism.

“The longer-term objective of socialism was always to facilitate the development of people’s lives in a more fulfilling direction”, he writes and asks: “Is it possible to make serious moves in this direction even within what is still a predominantly capitalist economy?”.

His answer is, perhaps surprisingly, “yes”, in the form of the scheme proposed by the Belgian social thinker, Philippe Van Parijs, for paying everyone a Basic Income as of right and irrespective of whether or not they work, referring to an article by him in a book with the revealing title of Redesigning Distribution: Basic Income and Stakeholder Grants as Designs for a More Egalitarian Capitalism. Or, as Van Parijs himself has put it:

“In classical Marxism, socialism is just an instrument for achieving the society in which people can work freely according to their abilities but still get enough according to their needs. If socialism doesn’t work, because of threats to freedom and problems of dynamic efficiency, then why not harness capitalism to achieve the same objectives?” (The Bulletin, Brussels, 19 July 2001).

It’s a pipedream of course and a bit currency cranky (though to give Van Parijs his due, he did come up with a brilliant title for one of his books in What’s Wrong with a Free Lunch?). A Basic Income paid as of right would have to be funded (even squeezed) out of profits and would either undermine the wages system (why work for a capitalist employer if the State is paying you whether you work or not?) or make no difference (since wages would fall by the amount of the State wage subsidy that a Basic Income would represent). Or it would be fixed at so low a level as to be just another name for “Income Support”.

As for us, we’re still socialists as we were in the 1970s. Capitalism can’t be reformed, humanised or made more egalitarian. It must be ended not mended, and replaced by a system of common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, so that production can be geared to satisfying people’s needs on the principle of “from each their ability, to each their needs”.
ALB

Monday, April 16, 2007

CONSUMERISM OR SOCIALISM?

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According to channel five TV, consumerism is one of the Big Ideas that Changed the World. Jonathan Porritt, hobnobber with royalty, supporter of reformed capitalism, and pale green activist, was presenter of the programme on consumerism of 10 April. He made some good critical points about the threat to sustainability of growing world consumerism, but concluded by advocating reforming it rather than getting rid of it.


It is fast becoming clear that the growing capitalist world market will not be able to raise the material standard of everyone living on the planet to that enjoyed at present by people living in the “prosperous” west. The present world population is around 6.5 billion and is expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050. The population of the “developed” world is expected to stabilise at around 1.2 billion. All of the extra 2.5 people expected to be living in 2050 will be in the current “developing” world.


There has been speculation about where the resources needed to sustain a larger world population at a good standard of living will come from. Optimists writing in 1995 thought it would take three additional planets to support the whole world's increased population at the standards of the industrialised world. In 2005 a more pessimistic estimate was that “we would have to discover four Earth-like planets to accommodate them all.”

A big part of the problem is that capitalism isn't really geared to meeting human needs; it likes to create, and then satisfy human wants. The top end of the market lavishly caters for the wants of people with plenty of money to spend. The bottom end of the market sells cheap (and often shoddy or unhealthy) goods and services to people with little money but who need them. The market doesn't cater at all for people with no money – they have to rely on stealing, charity or handouts.

When William Morris was writing about socialism at the end of the 19th century the term “consumerism” hadn't been invented. Imagine if he were writing about the situation today (with apologies to Fiona MacCarthy, arguably the best of Morris's biographers):

A-z-list celebrities? Bargain breaks? Bottom-line accounting? Business parks ? Buy to let? Chat shows? Corporate sponsorship? Craft fayres? Customer loyalty? Debt counselling? Designer clothes? Drug culture? Enterprise environment? Fast food? Freebie magazines? Gurus? Health farms? Junk bonds/food/mail? Leisure centres? Life-style coaching? Money laundering? Niche marketing? Paparazzi? Pet boutiques? Political correctness? Pulp fiction? Reality shows? Retail therapy? Sell your story? Shopping malls? Soap operas? Sound bites? Spaghetti junctions? Surveillance cameras? Theme parks and pubs? Trophy wives? Two for the price of one? Video porn? Vip lounges? War memorabilia?

“Damned pigs! Damned fools!” You can hear Morris expostulate, robust, fidgety, tremendous, pulling out the hairs (singly) from his great prophetic beard.

SRP

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Next Sunday in France

4 comments
Next Sunday people in France will be voting in the first round of the French presidential elections. They will have a choice of 12 candidates, including one from the so-called Socialist Party, another from the so-called Communist Party, three Trotskyists and an “anti-capitalist”.

We are often asked why all those calling themselves socialist don’t just get together. The programme of the Trotskyist candidates in these elections provides one answer. When we contest elections, we campaign only for socialism as a worldwide system of society, without frontiers, based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, with produced solely for use not for profit. When the Trotskyists contest elections, they hardly ever mention even their (mistaken) conception of socialism (which in reality is state capitalism). They assume that capitalism will continue and offer only reforms to it, thus contributing to the illusion that capitalism could be made to work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers.

A case in point is Lutte Ouvrière, the premier Trotskyist organisation in France. Here’s how they describe their candidate’s programme in the latest issue of their French-language theoretical journal Lutte de classe:

“The three major problems for the popular classes are the persistence of unemployment at an unacceptable level, the continual decline of the purchasing power of the toiling classes and the catastrophic state of housing for the people. These necessitate an urgent solution. This urgent solution requires a different use of the high profits realised by enterprises over many years. It is from these profits as well as from the hand-outs given to enterprises by the State at a loss that must be taken the funds needed to finance the maintaining of employment in the private sector and to create new ones, useful to the population, in the public sector”.

In other words, capitalism, including a private sector, is to continue and there is a “solution”, even an “urgent” one, within it: to use the profits of capitalist enterprises to create new jobs and build new and better houses. This is just demagogy as there is no solution to unemployment and bad housing under capitalism, as the experience of capitalism shows let alone a knowledge of Marx’s analysis of how capitalism works.

But it gets worse. The naughty capitalists have, apparently, not been using their profits properly:

“The unprecedented profits accumulated by enterprises are not used for real investments, i.e. for the building of new factories, the manufacture of new machines, the enlargement of productive capacities with jobs as a consequence. That’s the essential reason for the present economic crisis. Instead of enlarging the basis of production, the accumulated money is more and more financialised and only used for those false investments that are the take-over of enterprises by each other. Unable to enlarge the market with a sufficient rate of profit, the main aim of enterprises is to dispute with others their share of the market. The competition between them to outbid each other sustains a speculative spiral which, in addition, threatens the economy with a new stock exchange or monetary crisis”.

There’s a solution to this too:

“The only way to stop this rush towards the abysm is for the popular classes, the population, to impose their control over enterprises, over the choices made by their managements. The population must be able to exercise control over the enterprises day by day, over their finances, their strategies, their choices, their short and long term projects, so as to be able to oppose projects which manifestly go against the interests of society”.

We don’t know if they really believe that all that is needed to get enterprises to produce in “the interests of society” rather than for profit is popular control over their investment decisions, but that’s what they say, so giving the impression that this would be possible under capitalism. That capitalism could be reformed in this way is of course just another reformist illusion.

We suspect we know what they are going to reply in response to this criticism: that these promises are only a “transitional programme” designed to lead workers, who can’t understand the “abstract” idea of socialism, to realise through the experience of the failure of these reformist measures the need to get rid of capitalism (actually, to establish state capitalism as in Russia under Lenin and Trotsky).

In other words, there’s a subtle theory for the “vanguard” and demagogic reformist promises for the thicko “masses”.

Either they believe their promises (in which case they are reformists). Or they are just offering them as bait to win followers (in which case they are disreputable manipulators). Either way they stand condemned. Which is why we are just as opposed to them as to the openly pro-capitalist candidates.

We say that workers in France who want socialism can show this by dropping a paper marked “SOCIALISME MONDIAL” into the ballot box.
ALB

Monday, April 09, 2007

The military are not that unintelligent

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Everyone has heard the one about “military intelligence” being a contradiction in terms. But military planners can’t afford to be stupid – and aren’t, as a recent Ministry of Defence publication shows.

The Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) of the Ministry of Defence has just published a document on Strategic Trends which sets out their view on the context for the activity of Britain’s armed forces over the next thirty years. The man in charge, Rear Admiral Chris Parry, explains in the introduction that the trends identified in the document are “probability-based rather than predictions”. The degrees of probability being will, likely, may, possible.

What emerges from the document is that the military thinkers behind it share the socialist analysis that conflicts in the modern (capitalist) world arise out of competition between states over sources of raw materials, markets, investment outlets, trade routes and strategic points to control and protect these.

Against the sub-heading “securing natural resources”, the document says:

“Key natural resources, especially oil, gas and minerals of strategic value, will continue to be sourced from unstable areas and unreliable regions. Maintaining access and containing instability risks in these areas is therefore likely to increase in importance, alongside wider developmental and stabilization roles. Where oil and gas sources are located in areas of doubtful security, military intervention may be used to protect the integrity of sites and to secure investments” ( p. 29).

In fact, the document regards “competition for energy” as one of the “hot topics” of the period. “Competition for energy supplies”, it says, “will dominate the economic landscape during the next 30 years” and that “requirements to access sources of supply in unstable regions or countries could lead to intervention to protect assets and investments” (p. 31).

“Overheating of energy markets may lead more countries to follow the example of China in establishing bilateral arrangements that seek to dominate or control the global market in their favour, possibly fuelling tension among those who are excluded or who cannot or will not compete in a market environment. This may lead to political and even military interventions in order to protect access and safeguard supply” (p. 26).

Then, there’s the trade routes:

“Most of the world’s trade by bulk, particularly energy, will continue to transit by sea and through maritime choke points such as the Straits of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Straits of Malacca, in areas which will remain highly unstable. This will demand high levels of international cooperation and a continuing dependence on the deployment of maritime power.” (54)

And the strategic points:

“There is likely to be more emphasis on the active containment of aggressors, symptoms of crisis and irregular elements, to deter and defeat military threats to partners and the international system. In these circumstances, the ability to secure and maintain free access to areas of strategic and operational interest will remain vital” (p. 54).

The MoD strategists don’t think that these tensions will lead to war in the sense of “state-on-state” conflicts (“Major interstate wars will be unlikely”, p. 67), at least not until after 2020:

“Although large-scale interstate warfare is unlikely, competition for finite resources and intolerance at market forces may lead to tensions and greater potential for confrontation and conflict between 2020 and 2035” (p. 43).

“Global economic and financial interdependency is likely to reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of major interstate warfare before 2020. However, increasing pressures on resources, particularly energy, and the growing assertiveness of emerging powers such as India, China and Iran, beyond this date may result in the return of great power rivalries as the defining characteristic of geopolitics, with a consequent increase in the risk of interstate and inter-bloc conflict” (p. 48).

“Conflict and crisis will become increasingly complex and unpredictable, both in their incidence and character, during the period to 2035, with serious interstate rivalry probably expressing itself through proxy actions by hostile groups who may or may not have issues of their own” (p.67).

Even before 2020, however, the strategists think that conflict between states will take place through proxies (as already happened during the Cold War period):

“In the absence of direct, open state-on-state conflict, there will be a marked increase in the prevalence of irregular activity . . . There will also be increased sponsorship of irregular activity and groups by states, seeking to utilize and exploit, through proxy, gaps in the international system, either to assert themselves or secure advantage without exposing themselves to state-on-state risks” (p. 52).

The document is not confined to narrow trends that concern the military directly but also mentions economic, political and other issues, singling out as climate change, globalization and global inequality as the three “areas of change” which “will touch the lives of everyone on the planet” and underpin all the other trends.

On the world scale, the strategists think that “while life for most people is likely to improve materially, a significant number will continue to experience hardship, and unevenness and fluctuations within a globalized market-based economy will still mean that life will be uncertain for most” (p. 1).

“While material conditions for most people are likely to improve over the next 30 years, the gap between rich and poor will probably increase and absolute poverty will remain a global challenge. . . Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality, terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism” (p. 3).

Let’s hope that on this very last point they are right.

The full report can be read at http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/5CB29DC4-9B4A-4DFD-B363-3282BE255CE7/0/strat_trends_23jan07.pdf
ALB

The American Civil War and Slavery

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The American civil war began this month in 1861 and ended this day in 1865 with the loss of nearly one million lives.

Most people if asked will say that this conflict was about the abolition of slavery. But this, just like much of history, including the so-called abolition of slavery in Great Britain and Saint William Wilberforce (see the blog below from 31/3/07 WW was a nasty Tory) is incorrect. Such misunderstanding is, of course, just what the ruling class then and now want. Before examining the war from a Socialist perspective, readers wishing to learn more about 'History as propaganda' and 'History as mystery' should click
http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/apr07/page14.html
and
http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/jul98/histmyst.html


"...If the abolition of slavery was an all important issue to the North, then why were Wendell Philips and William Lloyd Garrison mobbed in Boston, the centre of abolitionist ferment? Why was Lovejoy lynched in Illinois? Why was Douglass, friendly to the South and its institutions, elected to the Senate by the same State that started Lincoln on his road to fame?


Then too, the idea of opposition to slavery on moral grounds becomes ridiculous when one regards the low moral conscience of Northern industrialism. The was no revulsion at the horrible mills and mines where men, women and children toiled long hours for a pittance; at the miserable slums, unfit for human habitation in all the cities and towns; at the periodic crises which threw the workers on the streets to starve; at the universal blacklist for those who spoke of unionization.


Certainly it was not opposition to slavery on moral grounds that prompted Massachusetts, in the early 18th century, to abolish it. John Adams wrote: "that the real cause was the multiplication of labouring white people who would not suffer the rich to employ these sable rivals so much to their injury." And the fact that a committee appointed by the Massachusetts Council in 1706, recommended the abolition of slavery because "white servants were cheaper and more profitable than black slaves." Nor were Lincoln and his party, a century and a half later, concerned with the morals of slavery. In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued as a war measure against the Rebels and did not apply to those slaves loyal to the Union. The Republican Party made quite plain the fact that it was not opposed to the continuation of slavery in the South provided it was not spread into the frontier areas in which the Northern industrialists wished to establish their own slave system - wage labour....


The American South, despite its slave labour, was basically a commodity society in which goods (including slaves) and services were produced for sale on the market with a view to profit. A more fitting designation for the system is Plantation Capitalism. Certainly the South fought to maintain the chattel status of its Negroes, but mainly because this labour was vital to its economy [one largely based on the cultivation and ginning of cotton] and because its very system was falling apart largely as a result of Congressional laws which favoured Northern interests and made chattel slave labour too costly. The moral justification for slavery was naturally provided by the Southern churches for the benefit of their aristocratic "partners."


It was largely because of the law against the importation of slaves and the consequent need of breeding these "vocal tools" that a field hand who in 1808 sold for 150 dollars, brought from two to four thousand dollars in 1860. The control of Congress by the North resulted in high tariffs on imported manufactured goods which interfered with the important trade of Southern raw cotton for English textiles. The development of the Northern seaports and railways also brought about a loss of trade to the South from the Western agricultural regions - long ship hauls down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans became unnecessary. And the South, which desperately needed new land to replace that used up by their wasteful one-crop system, was losing out in its bid to bring in frontier areas as slave states.


As its losing economic war with the North and its internal contradictions progressed, the beneficiaries of the Southern plantation system became fewer, their holdings ever larger. In 1860 only about one-half million of a population of 9 million Southern whites are reckoned to have made any profit from chattel slavery, of which a mere 100,000 were the actual ruling class. In this crumbling fabric of the South, the problems confronting the 10,000 was how to maintain dominance under universal white suffrage. Support came from the professional class and the clergy with their one or two personal slaves. Also from the poor, degraded "white trash" who squatted on the poorest land and fiercely defended the institution of chattel slavery which provided another economic group over whom they could vaunt their "superiority." As an added bonus, there was the lift to their spirits to be had by identifying themselves with the Southern aristocrats....


The elections of 1860 tore any remnants of control of the national government from the hands of the Southern rulers. Secession became necessary. The plantation capitalists knew that their social system could never prosper with a government they could not control. They had no more need for the North, since their system was barred by soil and climate from expanding in that direction. With a government they could control, expansion to the south could proceed,in harmony with the grand visions of the Southern "Manifest Destinators." There was Mexico to be conquered, Central America, Cuba, and even the vast continent of South America - all offering vast areas of land for the smooth operation of their economy. Their backs to the wall, they had nothing to lose, so they took the plunge and the hot war began..."


During the ensuing slaughter conscription was introduced for the first time in American history. But those rich enough to part with $300 could become legal dodgers. Some of the rich became even more so: J.P Morgan made a fortune by selling thousands of previously condemned rifles to the War Department. Business as usual. This was true after the war too. "Those who returned to the industries found a new foe, warlike and pitiless, but in industrial rather than military warfare. These were the "captains" of industry - the Fricks, Carnegies, Vanderbilts, Rockerfelllers, Hills, Huntingtons, Flagers and, of course, the redoubtable J.P.Morgan. With the 70's came the business panics and the great strikes. In the Pennslyvania coal fields a bloody war raged between the owners and the Molly Maguires (a secret society of rebellious workers). Alan Pinkerton, a spy of Lincoln's, now became the leading industrial spy and the strike breaker in the land. By worming his way into the inner circle of the society, he was instrumental in bringing about the exposure of the Molly Maguires. Ten of their members were hanged and many more sent to prison, bringing to an inglorious end the careers of some of the former heroes of the Union Army. Many more of the veterans were to witness the same generals who had led them to "victory" now march upon them with their former brothers-in-arms, to shoot, kill and jail them. It was a rude awakening for and was to teach them that the war was not fought for them, as they had thought, but to build an economic system that would enrich a handful." (The War Between the States, Socialist Standard, April 1961).

RS

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Solidarity's Manifesto

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Solidarity is the Scottish party that arose following the bitter disputes surrounding Tommy Sheridan, the SSP, his alleged sex romps printed in "News of the World" and his succesful legal action against News International.

We aren't particularly interested in their feuds. Sheridan can sue Murdoch or sleep with him for all we care. What is of note is these pseudo-socialists clearly play the leadership game, proferring themselves to the working class as the right man/woman for the job of leading them...leading them to where? They are also willing to do each other in to fight their way up the greasy pole after political power. That an alleged affair became the political issue in these "Scottish Socialist" circles is a rather telling indicment about how rotten the whole bunch of them are.

Anyway, Solidarity have launched their election manifesto (.pdf format) for May's elections. There are bits of it which are worth reading if you have illusions about the capitalist system. In light of all the global poverty, environmental destruction et al highlighted by the manifesto, what is Solidarity's answer?

Well, banning air guns in Scotland is one policy they stand for election on. (That is just BIG.)

Of course, all that is on offer is a huge selection of apparantly nice sounding reforms. At one stage they mention their opposition to the Market System and that they stand for a socialist economy. What that amounts to is nationalisation (public ownership), which is State Capitalism not Socialism. The mere fact that all of their "socialist" policies are to be implemented in one country, Scotland, is enough to dismiss them as socialists.

There are references to getting rid of the profit motive behind production through out the manifesto, despite the obvious fact there still being wage labour and commodity production. And this will be a Scotland operating within a world market.

Solidarity's manifesto is just so much eye wash.

Gray

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Falklands War remembered

2 comments
Twenty five years ago today Argentina and the United Kingdom went to war over control of the Falkland Islands/Los Islas Malvinas. That war along with others during the last century and start of this one resulted in the meaningless mass murder of millions. What we said at the time - not to mention 1914, 1939, etc., etc - is worth recalling as it shows the validity of the Socialist Party's consistent opposition to all wars and that none justify 'the shedding of a single drop of working-class blood'.

THE FALKLANDS CRISIS

In the face of the imminent threat of war over the potential wealth of the Falkland Islands the Socialist Party of Great Britain affirms:

1. That despite the wave of jingoistic hysteria in the press and its endorsement by Labour and Tory politicians alike, no working class interests in Britain, Argentina or the Falklands themselves can be served by war.
2. That neither the military junta in Buenos Aires nor the elected representatives of British capitalism, least of all the business interests of the Coalite-Charringtons, can justify the shedding of a single drop of working class blood.
3. That the new-found outrage at the undemocratic and oppressive nature of the Argentine regime rings false coming from a government which was arming that regime until the eve of hostilities.
4. That the crucial role of Argentine capitalism in profitably making up the notorious shortfall of agricultural production within the Russian Empire goes far to explain the support given to the junta by the local "Communist Party" and the muted criticism of it by the same circles who so vociferously denounce the similar dictatorship in Chile and its parallel suppression of trade unionism and free speech.

We therefore reiterate that having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow-workers of all lands the expression of goodwill and socialist fraternity and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism in all its guises and the establishment of socialism throughout the world, the only way to end war.
THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, 13 April 1982

The statement above appeared in the May 1982 Socialist Standard, which had the provocative image of a "No. 10 Falklands Thatcher's Navy Cut" and "Warning: Jingoism Can Seriously Damage Your Health".

The Socialist Party holds that nations compete over mineral resources, trade routes and areas of domination. The potential wealth referred to by the Executive Committee includes today what is estimated at up to sixty billion barrels of crude.
Such competition manifests itself as diplomatic disputes (for current examples see 'Who owns the North Pole?') to wholesale death and destruction, as in strategically important, oil rich Iraq.

The concluding paragraph to 'Doing the bulldog thing' is just as valid today as when in was written in 1982:

"So British and Argentinian service men went across across the ocean to do battle with each other in their masters' cause. It was another doleful example of ignorant workers being easily duped by the empty jingoism of desperate politicians. Animals do it better; at least they don't take themselves willingly to the slaughterhouse."

Post Falklands War fact: More British soldiers have committed suicide since returning from then Falklands than were killed in the conflict.
RS