Thursday, May 31, 2007

Global warming: we’re not to blame

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The government, the churches, the charities are all trying to make us feel guilty by saying that we as individuals are to blame for global warming. Some say that, by our chosen lifestyle, we personally emit too much CO², directly, when we drive a car or, indirectly, when we leave the lights on or heat our homes without them being properly insulated, or when we fly to our holiday destinations. Others take the total amount of CO² emitted from all sources in the country where we live and simply divide it by the total population, attributing the result to each individual. This figure for “carbon dioxide emission per person” is the one that is widely bandied about as our alleged individual “carbon footprint”. But this is absurd as it makes us responsible for the emissions that come from power stations and other capitalist enterprises.

Blaming us as individuals for global warming is based on the mistaken view, taught in economics textbooks, that the aim of production today under capitalism is to satisfy the needs of paying consumers. Or, as they put, “the consumer is king”. If this was the case – if production really were driven by individual consumer choice – there might be a case for blaming individual consumers and persuading us to consume less might help reduce emissions. But under capitalism the driving force of the economy is not to satisfy people’s needs but to make a profit and accumulate most of it as additional capital to be re-invested in production with a view to making more profit. It is this imperative for "growth” that drives capitalism. Individual consumption is merely a by-product of this, what the workers who produce profits and carry out administrative functions within the system must consume to keep themselves fit for work.

Which is why individuals cutting their consumption will not and cannot solve the problem. If everyone cycled to work – as many more used to in the 1940s and 1950s – this would reduce the cost of reproducing workers' labour power and eventually lead to a fall in wages. Or, if people saved electricity by switching off their lights or better insulating their homes, this would save them money – to spend on other things which would probably involve an additional expenditure of energy from burning fossil fuels to produce. But, more likely, as with cycling to work, would exert a down pressure on wage and salary levels. But lower labour costs will mean more profits – to invest in energy-consuming “growth”.

Blaming “mankind” in general for causing the problem suggests that people have deliberately chosen to engage in the activities that have led and are still leading to global warming. Whereas this is not the case. Most humans performing these are just carrying out the orders of those organising them while these latter are in turn constrained to act in the way they do by the economic laws of the capitalist system that currently dominates the world and which require production costs to be minimised so as to have a chance of beating the competition.

It is capitalism that has forced some humans to organise and order other humans to burn fossil fuels, cut down tropical forests, etc because this is cheaper and more competitive than the alternatives. So it is capitalism that must go if the problem is to be dealt with in a lastingly effective way.

ALB

Friday, May 25, 2007

A matter of common sense

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Arlette Laguiller addresses a workers' rally in France

The following is an English translation of a leaflet being distributed this weekend by socialists in France at the fête of “Lutte Ouvrière” in Presles, near Paris.

Before the second round of the presidential elections, the employers' organisation MEDEF announced that it was not going to give any advice on which of the two remaining candidates to vote for, both "being favourable to the market economy", i.e., to call things by their name, to capitalism. One way as another of saying that the UMP and the PS are six of one and a half-dozen of the other; which every wage and salary worker having experienced the governments of both colours can only confirm.

The day before, and in her way, Arlette Laguiller said the same when she declared "Ségolène Royal as well as Sarkozy are in the camp of Capital, in the camp of the speculators, the exploiters and the sackers and are their good and loyal servants" (22 April). Which wage and salary however little lucid could not agree?

But then while, logically, the employers voted for their representatives, the candidates of the "left of the Left" called for a vote for a "candidate of Capital"! Is there any wonder that the immense majority of wage and salary workers are completely lost?

What is called the "market economy", "economic liberalism", "free enterprise" or whatever other euphemism is employed, the social system under which we live is capitalism. Under this, the means for producing and distributing wealth – society's means of existence – are the exclusive property of a dominant parasitic class – the holders of capital or capitalist class – for whose benefit they are unavoidably run (by wage and salary workers!)

The health, the well-being of the population as a whole are sacrificed when they threatens the selfish profit of this owning minority. And who has not heard of veal with hormones, mad cow disease, the pollution of the seas and rivers, global warming, the destruction of the ozone layer, so-called "social" plans, etc.?

The anti-liberal "Left" criticise this system but only propose reforms which, intentionally or not, allow it continue. Trying to reform this system for the benefit of wage and salary workers, to mitigate its effects, in short, to "humanise" it, is to ask a tiger to eat grass.

We are not calling into doubt the sincerity of the majority of the candidates and militants of the radical Left, but we do seriously doubt the effectiveness of their proposals.

For more than a century the reformists have had the chance of finishing with the problems of capitalism (unemployment, precariousness, poverty, insecurity, housing shortage, malnutrition, famines, wars), and despite the infinity of governments of all tendencies which have succeeded each other in the course of the 20th century, not only have these problems not disappeared, they have got worse and others, which we have already mentioned, have come to join them. And reforms obtained with such difficulty are called into question by the first "liberal" government that comes along (raising of the retirement age, reduction of unemployment benefits, non-reimbursement of social security, etc) while waiting for the calling into question of the 35-hour week and other goodies.

To finish with these problems which burden us, it is not an increase in the minimum wage or any other humanitarian measure that we need, any more than utopian and unworkable measures such as a "ban on sackings in enterprises that are making profits" (José Bové and LCR) or, put another way, the banning of "any collective sackings by large enterprises on pain of requisition, i.e. expropriation without repurchase or compensation" (Arlette Laguiller). Well before any candidate bearing such a demand had entered the gates of the presidential palace, the shareholders and owners of the targeted enterprises would have delocalised, thus throwing hundreds of thousands of workers on to the streets.

By definition, capitalism can only function in the interest of the capitalists. There is therefore only one conclusion: no rearrangement, no measure, no reform can (or in fact will ever be able to) subordinate capitalist private property to the common interest and so change in any way the position of submission of the waged and salaried majority to the selfish interests of the owning minority. Learning from past mistakes and not wishing to repeat them, socialists propose, as the only immediate and realistic solution, the establishment of the social ownership (hence the name of socialism) of society's means of existence, so as to ensure their management by (and so in the interest of ) the community as a whole.

We therefore launch an appeal to all wage and salary workers aware of the seriousness of the present situation and who want to bring it to an end not to patch it up. We hope it will be heard.
Click here for Wikipedia entry for Lutte Ouvrière

Monday, May 21, 2007

WHAT THE PEOPLE IN NORTHERN IRELAND GOT FOR 30 YEARS OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION

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It was a great day at Stormont. The great and the good from many countries were there including the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. Centre stage, of course, were Ian Paisley, yesterday’s ‘Never-Never’ man, now grinning like death in the apocalypse, and Martin McGuinness, yesterday’s IRA commander, expensively tailored and replete with effusive grin.

The event was generally acknowledged to be the formal end of Northern’s Ireland’s infamous thirty years of internecine warfare in which nearly 4,000 people were killed and some 60/70,000 injured.

Doubtless the fare was rich and the guests ate heartily. Paisley, Adams and their followers especially may have baulked somewhat at the political menu and the public exhibition of having to eat their words - admittedly. generously marinated in personal emoluments well beyond their past dreams of fulfilment. They could all be well satisfied with the price they got for their bloodthirsty ‘principles’.

Among the less great, the voting fodder who were afforded the democratic privilege of watching the circus on television, there was cynicism and utter disbelief but undoubtedly the overwhelming majority of the people of the province looked on the spectacle with differing measures of relief. If this collection of provocateurs and proxy killers was to be endured for peace - or what passes for peace in capitalist society - they would put up with it. The more thoughtful would have scratched comfort from the realisation that its not very different elsewhere.

Paisley’s DUP and the IRA’s Sinn Fein are together in government. Sane people can only hope that the electorate put them there because it was the despicable price that had to be paid for peace - for the game was always about power - even in Mother Erin’s British subsidised Fourth Green Field.

Ironically, Paisley’s antics over the last 40 years has done more to emaciate Unionism’s power base than the IRA; conversely, Sinn Fein is now an integral part of the political structures its murder campaign was supposed to destroy.

It is reasonable to ask what the working class got in return for its suffering for the victims - the killed and the killers, the mentally and physically maimed, the prisoners - were, as always, overwhelmingly of the working class. The media clarions our reward; we are going to get peace we are told. The agencies that were making war have gone into partnership - showing once again that peace and war emanate from the same source.

Meanwhile real power will not reside in Stormont, or London, or Dublin. It will reside in the cheque books of the billionaires and the multinational consortiums whose profit considerations will decide the priorities. Ultimately it is their writ that determines how we live in latter-day capitalism - even, indeed, if we live!

RM

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Philosopher, heal thyself

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In March the philosopher Julian Baggini published a much commented on book, Welcome to Everytown. A Journey into the English Mind (Granta, £14.99), about the everyday attitudes to life of people in an average English town (in the event, a part of Rotherham). He also writes a regular column in the Skeptic (www.skeptic.org.uk). In the Autumn 2006 issue he gave as an example of “a priori reasoning based on fundamental convictions, rather than empirical reasoning based on the facts of experience” the case of a “utopian socialist (or perhaps anarcho-syndicalist, she wasn't quite sure)” he had met who “was convinced that if we were to abolish money and unshackle people from the oppressive yoke of advanced consumer capitalism, we would all behave well and honourably, doing our all for the common good without concern for personal reward”. He went on “for our socialist, her self-evident first principles are that the only fair society is one where wealth is distributed equally, and that human beings are sufficiently virtuous that they would do whatever it took to make such a society function”.

He then set out the alleged factual case against this. First, “any faith in the intrinsic goodness of humanity is surely untenable after Auschwitz, Bosnia, Rwanda and the countless other acts of barbarity our species has perpetrated”. Second, “people actually pursue their own narrow self-interests and competitive advantage”. Third, we can see “the naturalness of hierarchy by looking at the behaviour of our primate cousins”. Socialists recognise this as of course the hoary old “human nature objection”, a pessimistic view ultimately derived from the Christian dogma that we are all born sinful and depraved which is still a deeply rooted popular prejudice.

We don't know if Baggini's acquaintance actually expressed herself in the terms he sets out or whether he has made her into a straw-woman he can easily knock down. We can broadly go along with her argument even if we wouldn't want to be committed to saying that humans are (to speak like a moral philosopher) intrinsically good or virtuous (and that we'd prefer to talk of distribution according to needs rather than equal distribution). But his objections reveal him to be guilty of precisely what he accuses her of: arguing from an already decided position without taking into account “the facts of experience”.

People certainly do pursue what they perceive to be their own interest – and why not, as biological organisms we seek to survive in the best way we can – but is it really the experience of all human societies that their individual members always and only, or even predominantly, pursue “their own narrow self-interests and competitive advantage”? What about the societies where, given the way that society is organised to secure the means of subsistence, people have taken a broader view of their self-interest, seeing this as being served by cooperating with others rather than trying to do them down all the time? In fact, not even capitalism, whose structure encourages unbridled individualism and competition between people, could survive if people didn’t also cooperate.

The “facts of experience” are that the various different kinds of society that humans have lived in in the course of their history and pre-history show that our species is capable of a wide variety of different behaviours. This has been confirmed by physical anthropologists and anatomists who have identified the biological features – brain capable of abstract thought, larynx and other organs capable of speech, long period to maturity – that allow “human nature” to be flexible, adaptable. Not infinitely adaptable, but enough to be able to live in a society without money, competition to satisfy material needs, or hierarchy.

It's a nice thought that gorillas, chimps and orangutans are our cousins. They do look a bit like us, but, scientifically, we are a lot more distantly related than that. We do share a common ancestor but that could have been as long ago as 10 million years. After that their ancestors and ours went their separate ways. They ended up as they have, with a relatively restricted range of possible behaviours.

In contrast, the homo line evolved into a species without any particular way of surviving in the rest of nature and whose members are capable of adopting a behaviour appropriate for surviving in a wide variety of different environments, both social and physical. Our “primate cousins” didn’t. Which is why it is invalid to infer anything about human behaviour from theirs. It is true that we share over 99 percent of genes with them, but that just confirms that the huge difference between them and us as to how we survive in nature is not due to biology but to our ability to adapt.

It was Marx who said that philosophers only interpreted the world. Baggini hasn't even done that here. All he has done is reflect the prejudices of his day.
ALB

The War is over for Harry the Ferocious

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The decision not to send Prince Harry to Iraq is debated in most of today’s papers. In a nutshell, going with his regiment to Iraq has been considered unsafe for Harry – who recently confided in friends “I’m shitting myself. Head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, referring to the decision to keep Harry from joining his regiment on active service, argued that the risk to Harry was “unacceptable".

The decision of the army top brass is incredulous. As if Iraq is any safer for the working class cannon fodder currently defending the interests of oil in the region! Indeed almost 4,000 allied troops have been killed since the invasion, which itself pales into significance when it is estimated that some 700,000 Iraqis have been slaughtered. As if there is an acceptable level of threat to life.

Maybe like General Smedley D Butler of the US Marine Corps, we will have to wait until General Dannatt retires from the army before he can see the insanity of war and just whose battles he is tasked with fighting overseas. General Butler once famously said:

“Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

“I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

“During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

It remains a shame that it takes a soldier decades of military service to arrive at such a conclusion, and only then when he retires. Such remarks made by any serving high ranking army personal would be tantamount to treason and no doubt result in a court martial. Where there are profits to be had truth is the equivalent of sedition.

JB

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

If John were Prime Minister

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Now that the SWP's wish has been granted and Phoney Blair has announced the date he is going, there will be a Labour Party election to replace him as Leader by Gordon Brown, the dour son of a Presbyterian minister who wants us all to display the Union Jack on Empire Day or whatever he proposes to call its replacement. But he's not going to get a free run. There are, apparently, still some people in the Labour Party who consider themselves socialists. They have now agreed on a champion to do battle with Brown: one John McDonnell, the MP for Hayes and Harlington in West London and chair of the Campaign Group of Labour MPs.

Ever since Blair announced his intention to go, they have been distributing leaflets, stickers and videos and are currently trying to recruit people to join the Labour Party just so they can vote for him. Although they disdain New Labour type spin, someone came up with the clever idea of calling their campaign and website “John4Leader”.

“I am campaigning,” McDonnell says, “for a Labour Party which puts people before profit, defends jobs and services, and supports peace over war. Join me.”

Until the 1990s this is what Labour used to say when not in office but what they never did when they were elected. John (as we’ve been invited to call him) doesn’t seem to have understood why. He seems to think that the putting of profits before people, cutting jobs and services and supporting war rather than peace which all Labour governments have always done were just mistaken policy choices, rather than something imposed on any government charged, as all governments are, with running the political affairs of a capitalist country in the interest of its capitalists.

All governments have to put profits before people because capitalism, the system within which they have to work, runs on them. They are what makes it go round. If profits are not given priority then problems begin to appear. Capitalist firms don’t have enough incentive to go on investing at the same or a higher level and unemployment and relocation to other countries result.


Rewards

John's opponent, Gordon, has understood perfectly well that, where you have production in the hands of profit-seeking businesses, to keep production going you’ve got allow these businesses to make profits. As he told an “Enterprise Conference” in 2005:
“My message today – and my mission in government – is that Britain should be not only the most stable environment but the most attractive location to do business and to create new businesses . . . We will continue to look at the business tax regime so that we can provide the best possible incentives for investment in wealth creation and rewards for success.” (Times, 4 February 2005)

It is this understanding that businesses must be allowed to do what they exist to do and seek and make profits as “rewards for success” that makes Gordon a far more suitable chief administrator of British Capitalism PLC than John with his illusion that under capitalism people can be put before profit.

Once you’ve given yourself the “mission” – actually, faced up to the realities of governing capitalism – of seeking to create the best conditions for profit-seeking businesses to operate and flourish, the rest follows.

John wants to “defend jobs”, but that’s not the way capitalism works. Competition means that there are losers as well as winners. While the latter enjoy the “rewards for success” in the form of higher profits, the losers suffer the penalty of failure in the form of lower or no profits. Losing firms have either to cut back on production or go out of business altogether or be taken over by more ruthless competitors. In whichever case, the result is job losses.

John doesn’t say how he would prevent this but we can guess that it would be either by subsidising loss-making businesses or by trying to protect them from foreign competition behind tariff walls. This could be done (after Britain had first withdrawn from the EU and the World Trade Organisation) but, now that capitalism is more global than ever before, the results would be disastrous for the economy of any country whose government tried them. There’d be an economic slump and mass unemployment. A leftwing Labour government under John might then respond by imposing a siege economy, with shortages and rationing as in Cuba, Zimbabwe and the other countries that have gone down this road, but we don’t fancy their chances at the next following election.


Reforms

It’s the same with the reforms John is promising. “I will increase the Basic State Pension to £114 a week and immediately restore the link to earnings”. “I will introduce a Real Living Minimum Wage of at least £7 an hour”. The only chance of these figures being attained is if there’s an inflation of the currency – highly likely under a leftwing Labour government – leading to an increase in the general price level. If they were to be attained by taxing profits to pay for them, this would be a disincentive for businesses to invest. In fact, it is because he doesn’t want to do this that Brown, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been seeking to reduce taxes on profits. Which is why he and the present Labour government have been cutting back on public services of every sort, from local libraries, post offices and sports facilities to hospital wards and care for the aged.

Then, there’s foreign policy. War and preparations for war by maintaining adequately equipped armed forces are a gigantic waste of resources but one the capitalist class are prepared to bear since they know, as Blair has recently underlined, that in international relations “might is right”, the bigger the club you hold the more chance your views have of being taken into account in commercial and diplomatic negotiations. And of course the aim of every government’s foreign policy has to be to further the interests of its capitalists by helping them secure markets and safe and reliable sources of raw materials and energy.

A leftwing Labour government could, as John promises, “withdraw British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and scrap Trident”. It is now clear that the Bush and Blair governments made a big mistake, in terms of their aim of ensuring secure and reliable oil supplies for capitalist industry in the West, in invading Iraq. They have made matters worse and are now desperately seeking an exit strategy that will minimise the advantage they have given to Iran, their main rival for hegemony over the Middle East.

John, however, thinks that British capitalism need not be concerned about oil supplies from the Middle East or anywhere else. If I were PM, he says, “I will implement a green energy policy based on renewable power sources”. Easier said than done, given that British capitalism depends on burning fossil fuels for 90 percent of its energy and that (in fact, because) renewable power sources are more expensive. If Britain under John opted to just use wind power, tidal power, hydro power, etc this would so raise production costs generally as to render practically all UK-produced goods completely uncompetitive on the world market and we’d be back to a siege economy.

A John government would have the power to “scrap Trident” nuclear weapons but this would be tantamount to deciding to relegate British capitalism from a second to a third rate power. We don’t know who John is going to appoint as his Foreign Secretary – Jeremy Corbyn, perhaps – but whoever it is will have to realise the worst nightmare of another one-time Labour leftwing firebrand, Nye Bevan, of going naked into the Conference chamber. As Frederick the Great of Prussia, who knew a thing or two about these things, put it, “diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments”.

In short, John and his colleagues are not living on this planet. They have a quite unrealistic programme that, if implemented, would lead to economic chaos and mass unemployment. The only thing that could be said in their favour is that it is not really meant to be implemented. That it’s just a harmless list of pious wishes.

So, no John, we shan’t be joining the Labour Party just to vote for you. What would be the point? We have seen the past and it doesn’t work.

ALB

[An earlier version of this article appeared in the March 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard.]

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Churchill - as he should be remembered

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Socialists know that Simon Sebag Montefiore is a lousy historian, something which can be gathered by reading his Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (see the Socialist Standard review) and confirmed by another book titled Speeches That Changed The World. Stalin makes an appearance here too, along with Jesus, Mohammed, Lenin, Hitler and other misleaders. Churchill is also a member of this motley crew.

Sixty seven years ago today, shortly after becoming Prime Minister, Churchill was, according to Montefiore, "...finally able to use his remarkable powers of oratory to rally and uplift the whole British nation in its struggle against the Nazi threat." During that speech Churchill stated that he had "...nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat." Needless to say, given that every utterance from such MPs (mendacious parasites) needs to be taken with a mountain of salt, and that Churchill lived a life of luxury for over 90 years, he was, of course, referring to the millions of brainwashed workers who during the course of World War II would be die at the altar of King Capital.

That, as Montefiore notes, Churchill was voted ' greatest Briton' in a 2004 survey is only one sad reminder that decades later capitalism persists only through the acquiescence of the working class. Unlike the Socialist Party which has no secrets, Montefiore does not, of course, provide a warts and all (see this also) profile of Churchill, though he is candid enough to note that Winston "...suffered from a slight lisp and a stammer...". Indeed, this is the reason why recordings of "'We shall fight them on the beaches' speech of 4 June 1940 and the 'Their finest hour' speech of 18 June 1940 were made by one Norman Shelley - a radio actor who played Colonel Danby in BBC Radio 4's The Archers and who died in 1980.

Without then the help of Montefiore or the actor Shelley, we will allow Churchill to speak for himself on a variety of topics:

On Bolshevism: For Churchill, the Soviet Union was a 'tyrannic government of these Jew Commisars', a 'worldwide communistic state under Jewish domination', 'the international Soviet of the Russian and Polish Jew', or just 'these Semitic conspirators'.
On race: Churchill said 'the Indians in East Africa are mainly of a very low class of coolies, and the idea that they should be put on an equality with the Europeans is revolting to every white man throughout British Africa'.

In February 1954, he told the cabinet 'the continuing increase in the number of coloured people coming to this country and their presence here would sooner or later come to be resented by large sections of the British people' .
On force-feeding hunger-striking suffragettes: It was 'not a medical question', said Churchill. 'It is a question of policy.'
On Irish independence: According to Churchill, the struggle for Irish independence from Britain was part of 'a worldwide conspiracy against our country' by 'the rascals and rapscallions of the world who are on the move against us'. Organising Orangemen in June 1922, Churchill said: 'When we begin to act we must act like a sledgehammer, so as to cause bewilderment and consternation among the people of southern Ireland .'

On Hitler's coming to power: 'The story of that struggle, cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy conciliate or overcome, all the authority of resistances which barred his path', said Churchill. Asked about Germany 's anti-Jewish laws in 1938, Churchill thought 'it was a hindrance and an irritation, but probably not an obstacle to a working agreement'.

In 1937, Brigadier Packenham Walsh reported that 'Winston says at heart he is for Franco'.

And from the 'Churchill in perspective' article (Socialist Standard, March 1965):

"..It was he [Churchill] who called out the troops during the Dock Strike in 1911. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer in government which put on the statute book the 1927 Trades Disputes Act, prohibiting strikes by one group of workers in sympathy with another, curtailing the right of picketing, and preventing the Civil Service unions affiliating to the T.U.C....In 1927 he was "charmed,..., by Signor Mussolini's gentle and simple bearing, and by his calm, detached poise in spite of many burdens and dangers."..."I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war, I hope we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful place among the nations.".."

By way of conclusion, from the same article:

"Churchill was a member of the British capitalist class and he served his class well. He maintained a constant anti-working class attitude throughout his life....In death, as in life, he served our rulers well. The pomp and ceremony of his funeral was a circus for the diversion of the working class. The entire pulpit - religious, political, press and radio - have been loud in his praise. Here was a man, they said, for workers to look up to, to recognise as a leader, and in doing to pay homage to future leaders and the principle of leadership...Where did Churchill lead the workers? Where will any leaders take them? Workers have only to reflect on their experiences - not for Churchill and his class, but for those they dominate, is it a life of blood, sweat, toil and tears. And it will remain so, until the same workers who are deluded into hysterical hero worship of men like Churchill, learn that their interests lie in dispensing with leaders and setting up a social system in which all men stand equally."
RS

GOODBYE TO BAMBI

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Enfeebled by their thrashing at the polls in 1997, the most damaging comment the Tories could think of about Tony Blair was to liken him to a political Bambi – a young, doe-eyed innocent, deficient in any ambition or ability to control the wild beasts in his party and their scheming to bring back Clause Four. Those who were closer to the New Labour heart knew differently. Even before all the results were in on that night in May 1997, an iron discipline was being imposed on Bambi’s party. Jonathan Freedland, a Guardian reporter and a Labour supporter, was unable to celebrate Blair’s victory because he was brusquely ejected from the Hall as he was in a “forbidden zone” there. Three years later another Guardian writer, Andrew Rawnsley, recalled the situation: “Power within the party had been concentrated at the top. Discipline was everything. Dissenters were ruthlessly smothered and marginalized”.

According to Blair (and to most other politicians) “The only purpose of being in politics is to make things happen” – which leads to the questions of what are the “things” and whether it is worthwhile, in terms of human interests, that they should “happen”. Naturally, Blair is quite clear in the matter. In his farewell speech to the party members in his Sedgefield constituency he congratulated himself on what he had made happen during his ten years in Number Ten: “As for my own leadership, throughout these ten years…one thing was clear to me – without the Labour Party allowing me to lead it, nothing could ever have been done” and in more detail: “…more jobs, fewer unemployed, better health and education results, lower crime, and economic growth in every quarter…The British are special, the world knows it, in our innermost thoughts we know it…This is the greatest nation on Earth”.

These extravagant claims are based on a number of minor changes in working class conditions which some people – Labour politicians – may choose to interpret as improvements but which, compared to the everyday grinding problems of capitalism, are insignificant. For example we were invited to vote for Blair’s party because they legislated for an increase in paid maternity leave from 18 to 29 weeks; because there has been a rise in rate of employment of lone parents, so that the poverty of people with children may be just a little less severe; because during Blair’s ten years at the helm recorded crime fell, after the passage of no less than 53 criminal justice bills, some of which have created a crisis of overcrowding in the prison service while alarmingly eroding some civil liberties.

At the same time the number of children officially assessed as living in relative poverty rose by 100,000 to 2.8 million, making nonsense of Labour’s stated objective of cutting this figure by half by 2010. Then there has been the matter of governmental sleaze, in which Labour assured us they would be a refreshing improvement after the Tories but which began with the Bernie Ecclestone affair and which was exposed in the recent scandal of the award of honours to anyone rich enough to “lend” the party large sums of money. And of course there has been Iraq, which deserves to be the event by which Blair is best remembered – the war which he secretly agreed with Bush to support, which he attempted to justify with lies about the existence of powerful weapons and which has now plunged that hapless country into a chaos of murder and destruction.

Blair began his time as prime minister with high hopes from an electorate deceived by the Labour Party’s propaganda machine that here was a new, fresh leader to usher us into a secure future. It took some years to expose him as a typically ruthless and manipulative, if highly skilled, practitioner of the cynical art of capitalism’s politics. He will not be missed.
Ivan

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

French presidential election: now for round three?

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When François Mitterrand was first elected President of France in 1981 there was dancing in the streets. Last Sunday when Nicolas Sarkozy was elected there was rioting in the streets. Perhaps there would have been dancing again if Ségolène Royal had won. But, if so, it would have been as deluded as it was in 1981 – since within a year or so France had gone through three devaluations and the Mitterrand government imposed austerity on the working class.

As Socialists, who know from Marx’s analysis how capitalism works, we know that what is decisive in determining what happens to the living standards and working conditions of wage and salary workers is not the political colour of the party or person in office but the workings of the production-for-profit system. It is not governments who determine how the economy works but the capitalist economy which determines how governments act. Sooner or later capitalism forces all governments to put profits before people and to attack the working class on behalf of the capitalist class.

The only choice in Sunday’s French election was between somebody who said openly he was going to do this and somebody who’d be forced to it despite what she said. So our advice to workers in France was: it wasn’t worth voting for either, but as always keep your powder dry for the struggle on the economic field over wages and conditions.

Sarkozy is unpopular because he has made no secret of the fact that he’s going to impose austerity on the working class from the start. He has presented himself as a French Mrs Thatcher. Things, he argues, have been too comfortable for the French people; what they need, if France is to survive in the fiercely competitive arena of world capitalism, is not measures aimed to protect them from the effects of world capitalism (as Royal was promising, but wouldn’t have been able to deliver any more than Uncle Mitterrand could) but measures to adapt to and go along with world market pressures. The working week must be lengthened, the welfare state cut back, employment protection weakened – and, in addiction, the suburbs where immigrants live must be cleared of yobbos with a pressure hose.

Sarkozy has got a mandate for this, but only from 53 percent of those who voted. This will surely prove insufficient to push through these measures without resistance from the other 47 percent (and from those who didn’t vote). So, expect turbulent times in France over the next few years as the class war, initiated in this case by the capitalist class against the workers, hots up.

ALB

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Channel 4 and Global Warming

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In this month's edition of the Socialist Standard is a somewhat indignant letter from a Mr. William Reid in response to an article on (British TV) Channel 4's documentary on climate change. The response from the editors can be supplemented.

It turns out that one of the people used in the Channel 4 documentary has been highly critical of its use of data:

Eigil Friis-Christensen, director of the Danish National Space Centre, has issued a statement accusing the film-makers of fabricating data based on his work looking at the links between solar activity and global temperatures.

And:

Dr Friis-Christensen, a physicist, believes that solar cycles play an important role in climate change and that not enough effort has gone into addressing the theory. The fabricated data did not, he said, make any difference to the overall view he takes but he is still critical of the way the film handled the scientific evidence. Asked by The Independent whether the documentary was scientifically accurate, Dr Friiss-Christensen said: "No, I think several points were not explained in the way that I, as a scientist, would have explained them ... it is obvious it's not accurate."

Friis-Christensen is not alone in criticising the misrepresentations of the science in Durkin's documentary. Read the rest of the Independent report here.

Writing a paper on non-anthropogenic causes of climate change is an OK research topic. It goes without saying, though, that a student handing in a paper which fabricates research and which misrepresents an interviewee's opinions would get a resounding F, not to mention a pretty stiff word, from their teacher. Durkin's documentary simply fails to meet standard, basic requirements of research.

Gray

BTW: The Socialist Party will be holding a talk on Global Warming ("Global Warming: Who's to Blame?") on 23 May,starting 7:30pm, at: The Plough, 1st floor, 27 Museum Street, London WC 1. The venue is opposite the British Museum; the nearest tube stations are Tottenham Court Road and Holbern.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

What are the Origins of the First of May?

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The fortunate idea to use the celebration of a proletarian day of rest as a means of obtaining the 8-hour day first originated in Australia. In 1856 the workers there decided to organise a day of a total stoppage of work to demonstrate for the 8-hour day. The date of this demonstration was to be 21 April. In the beginning the Australian workers had envisaged this only for the year 1856. But this first demonstration had such an effect on the proletarian masses of Australia, stimulating them and leading to new campaigns, that it was decided to repeat this demonstration every year.

What in fact could give workers more courage and more confidence in their own strength than a massive stoppage of work which they have themselves decided? What would give more courage to the eternal slaves of the factories and workshops than the gathering of their own troops? Thus the idea of a proletarian festival was rapidly accepted and began to spread from Australia to other countries until it conquered the whole proletariat of the world.

The first to follow the example of the Australians were the Americans. In 1886 they decided that the first of May would be a universal day of stopping work. That day 200,000 of them left their work and demanded the 8-hour day. The police and legal harassment later prevented for some years the workers from repeating demonstrations of this size. However in 1888 they renewed their decision, planning that the next demonstration should be the first of May 1890.

In the meantime the workers’ movement in Europe had strengthened and motivated itself. The strongest expression of this movement took place at the congress of the Workers International in 1889. At the congress, made up of 400 delegates, it was decided that the 8-hour day should be the priority demand. The delegate of the French unions, the worker Lavigne from Bordeaux, proposed on this that this demand should be expressed in all countries by a universal stoppage of work. The delegate of the American workers drew attention to the decision of his comrades to go on strike on the first of May 1890 and the congress decided on this date for the universal proletarian festival.

On this occasion, as thirty years before in Australia, the workers were actually thinking of a one-off demonstration. The congress decided that the workers of all countries should demonstrate together for the 8-hour day on the first of May 1890. Nobody spoke about repeating the day without work in the following years. Naturally, nobody could foresee the brilliant success that this idea was to have nor the speed with which it was to be adopted by the labouring classes. However, it was enough to demonstrate once on the first of May for everybody to understand that the first of May had to be annual and perennial.

The first of May demanded the establishment of the 8-hour day. But even after this aim has been achieved the first of May should not be abandoned. As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the dominant classes continues, as long as all the demands are not met, the first of May will be the annual expression of those demands. And, when the better days come, when the working class of the world has won its emancipation, then humanity will probably also celebrate the first of May in honour of the determined struggles and numerous sufferings of the past.
(Article by Rosa Luxemburg published in the Polish journal Sprawa Robotnicza in 1894, translated from the French translation at: