Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Communications Counter-Revolution


As global media have developed, enabling words and images to be conveyed to millions of people in a matter of seconds, the words used have become increasingly more sloganised and contrived to delude, the imagery more tranquillising in its banality and stupefying in its detachment from historical context. As the world becomes a global village, linked by newly accessible technologies from the mobile phone to the lnternet, the most powerful use of these technologies has tended to promote the envelopment of mass consciousness by corporate ideology.

As the symbols of constitutional democracy come to dominate the globe, seemingly confirmed by newly acquired voting powers from Moscow to Soweto to West Lothian, the empowerment of the ballot is insidiously undermined by the neo-feudal absolutism of press barons and media moguls: the new stratum of the ruling class which controls the dogma of the news agenda. Rupert Murdoch's News International, to exemplify the point by reference to the biggest and baddest, has global assets of $15 billion and now controls the major newspapers in Britain and Australia, the biggest news broadcast network in the USA and by far the most significant private media organisation in Asia.

As global literacy rates increase, and huge hopes are placed upon the potentiality of science as a method of liberation from disease and diminished opportunities, the lexicon of the communications industry has converged with the language of the manipulative advertising industry, which has long denuded language of depth or integrity and prostituted speakers and writers in the service of the crude targets of the market.

The consequence of all this is a public which is increasingly bemused by and untrusting of the channels of mass communication; which finds itself the recipient of a one-way conversation, presented as communication; which has come to regard truth as being either the monopoly of a mediating elite or else so relative that nothing can be really true; which has become so sound bitten by political messages delivered to fit the crass measurements of the tabloid headline that enthusiasm for such political babble has become as perverse as commitment to a brand of baked beans or loyalty to a fast-food chain.

For most people the world of politics (for, politics seems indeed to inhabit a separate, remote and misty planet) seems terribly drab and empty and meaningless and alienating and dishonest. Politicians are never useful, except as pawns who might drive away the even more useless. Political activity is seen as an obsession for the disturbed: the rule-bound, the myopic, the ones who get their kicks from power games. Politics is an irritation or a threat, but never a resource of strength or hope.

The language of politics, as it has become compressed to the point of sounding half like gibberish and half like fraud, is not taken very seriously except by those who deal in its currency and have come to realise that it is a code of impotence reflecting the timidity of statecraft before economic powers which operate only in the global language of numbers.

Soundbite culture

Why has the culture of the soundbite arisen? Firstly, because political leaders have come to realise, albeit gradually and with a conspicuous absence of humility, that they can lead nobody anywhere. The market leads; they follow. To dance to the tune of capital entails a minimum of chorographical creativity and to sing to the tune calls less for the oratory of Cicero than the verbal banality of Saatchi or Mandelson.

Secondly, because ideas have become detached from political life. What George Bush called 'The Vision Thing' was a recognition of what he lacked, not what he had. The words needed to convey the contemporary political visions of the future. fantasies of myopia as they are, are few and uninspiring. "Gahd Bless America !" "New Labour; New Britain"; "One Europe; one people"; The Lady's Not for Turning"; "Things Go Better With Coke"? lt is a world led by second rate advertising copywriters.

When you have nothing to say there is much to be said for saying nothing. But in order for the political mime-show to become audible, for the sake of putting background noise, however disjointed, to the increasingly dominating imagery of the photo-opportunity, something, however brief and pointless, must be uttered.

Thirdly, there is a belief amongst those who produce the media and design the news, that the public is incorrigibly stupid, happy only when offered infantile distractions from reality and capable of taking in only the most simplistic and compressed smidgen of sound before rubbing our eyes and demanding an appointment with the Page Three girls. The public are regarded as half-baked cretins. The workers are witless and best offered football reports and Royal fairy stones: the tabloid valium for the dispossessed.

And because the news producers worry that our attention spans will collapse under the strain of more than a few minutes of political discussion, they ensure that such unmanageable bites of sustained argument never reach us. In the 1964 General Election— first in which the major political parties prepared themselves for a TV campaign—the average excerpt from a political speech on the television news was eighty-seven seconds. These days an eighty-seven second excerpt is unheard of. By the 1979 election, the median length of speech extracts on the BBC News was 45 seconds and on ITN 25 seconds. In the 1992 election the average length was heard was down to 18 seconds. In the last US presidential campaign no contender was quoted for more than 7 seconds, except during the deadly boring presidential debates in which they recited their pre-rehearsed soundbites with the conviction of a waitress in an American restaurant recounting you the day's specials on the menu.

The problem is not, of course, simply people want to hear politicians for more than twenty seconds. Fifteen seconds of John Major felt like a lifetime in a cell with him. The media producers are quite right: too much of this makes our heads ache and we run out into the street committing road rage. Faced with such intellectual vacuity and emptiness of vision there is much to be said for the most extreme brevity. The problem is quite simply that the most extreme brevity is fine when you are contrasting Coke with Pepsi or advertising baked beans which don't make you fart or asking if you prefer Oasis or Blur, but it is inimical to and destructive of the kind of reasoned, scientific judgement required from people who are called upon to make serious democratic choices.

No time for reason

Reason—the capacity to exercise our unique human capacity to organise our thoughts—to remember—to envisage and plan—to think and speak conceptually—to share thought through words—to use words to differentiate the self from the outer world and experience from fantasy— these hugely potent, definingly human, boundlessly creative forces which comprise reason will only wither and die if they are constrained by the inane language and crass imagery which sells jelly babies and New Labour.

To exercise reason takes time. This need for time has always been a problem for the vast majority because, under capitalism it is precisely the theft of our time which leaves us exploited and unfree and weary. So, there is a paradox: to understand why we are weary, unfree and exploited we need the time to contemplate the cause of exploitation and the hope for freedom. For the Leninists and the social-democratic reformists the problem was easily addressed: the nature of life for the majority would never permit the luxury of such reasoned contemplation, so mass socialist consciousness could never occur. The wearied workers must be led or left to rot.

For socialists, who refused to accept that authoritarian logic, the only basis for our claim that workers could and would understand the case for a new way of organising society, was that given the time to think and make sense of experience, understanding would combine with desire to create an enlightened embrace of the socialist alternative. Give people time to think and to speak and to argue and they cannot but see it as we have seen it.

But if time itself is to be sapped away by a culture of hurried messages and commercial jingles, the fascistic anthems of the marketplace, then what hope is there for reason' If language itself, in an Orwellian rape of meaning and sequential logic, becomes not a means to know more but a weapon in the armoury of those who would prefer us to know less, then reason itself falls victim to a vandalising culture which dehumanises those left to dwell in the Brave New World of the Sun and the organisation of mass stupidity. We would be abandoned to a cultural wilderness of endless Happy Hours but no happiness, punch-drunk street parties and feudal funeral processions as repositories for the deeply repressed miseries of the bewildered; elections and referendums with no issues and no discussion. This is the dystopian future of a society bereft of reason.

The threat of a slide to such an historical catastrophe is a menace to the reason which makes us human and to the socialist vision which could enable us to live humanely. And we do face such a threat. That is why we are unmistakably in the midst of a profound crisis of communication. Not only is it the case that the means of communication do not belong to us—in a world where very little belongs to us that is worth much that is hardly a revelation. But these channels of communication are being used against us. They are The Enemy Within, which can brand strikers as The Enemy Within and socialists as loonies, utopians and the merely irrelevant. It is as well to know our enemy, for struggle for the tools and language of communication has become in the course of the twentieth century the predominant battle-ground within which the shape of our social future will be contested.

The war waged by the ruling class to silence the majority is not a new one, even though it has too often been neglected by liberal historians who prefer to bathe in the still waters of liberal ideology. The battle to stifle the voices of the working class is a long and bloody one, and in many parts of the world it still goes on leaving the silenced, the maimed, the tortured and the butchered corpses in its wake. But in Britain and the so-called capitalist democracies the war against the right of workers to speak has changed. The strategy now is to tolerate 'free speech' and then drown it out with the megaphones of distraction and deceit. What we are offered is a democracy in which everyone has a right to be ignored, but only the rich and powerful can insist upon being heard.

Linguistic nihilism

What kind of intellectual climate is it that is allowing the communication of hope and the vivacity of human creativity to become so neglected? The answer lies in the current mood of counter-enlightenment which has come to dominate Western thought. The arid atmosphere of what has come to be known as postmodernism is precisely the environment within which the banalities of the soundbite and the soft-focus lens can triumph over the long-learned lessons of the Age of Reason. With their disdain for rational explanations the postmodernists argue that no cause is more important in producing an effect than any other. There is no rational analysis of history; there are no social systems; there can be nothing which is reducible to the clarity of scientific transparency.

So, within this hopelessly nihilistic chain of postmodernist discourse, everything is as meaningful as it is meaningless; rationality stands on a par with irrationality; no judgement must be prioritised over any other— genocide, death camps, avoidable mass starvation, the torture of political prisoners. These, according to the postmodernists, are all merely fragmented and inexplicable phenomena which operate each in their own separate world of autonomous values. So, if nothing general can be said, language becomes diminished as a civilising force. Words can mean anything or nothing or both. The postmodernists have celebrated the so-called Death of History: the death, in short, of that fundamentally liberating Age of Reason project, to which Marx contributed so greatly, to transform history from a passive force, in which humans are mere puppets, to a creative force in which our comprehension of the process allows us to actively direct the process of social movement. For the postmodernists all of this was ultra optimism and must now be substituted by an inert, sullen, complacent pact with the present.

This veritable revolt against the Enlightenment derides scientific logic and the quest for the dialectical interrogation of complexity and surrenders abjectly to the lunatic's logic of the marketplace and its attendant disorders. It gives rise to a notion of politics as being essentially about slogans rather than substance. For, if you really believe that there can be no substantial intervention in the making of history, what else is there to do but stand on the sidelines and pretend that your mandate is to carry out whatever happens to be taking place already?

At its worst, this is the climate in which the dark clouds of fascism can form. But not necessarily fascism in jackboots with Nuremberg rallies. It was hard to ignore a fascistic element within the mass hysteria which followed upon the recent death of a Princess. Such mass manipulation of human feeling and well-organised collective agonising of the repressed is precisely the kind of perverse waste of human emotion and energy made permissible in a society which has come to disdain popular reason.

The politics of reasoned thought requires the capacity to distinguish between the trivial inconsequences of our enemies and the historically vital events out of which history makes us and we can make history. It requires a rejection of the linguistic nihilism of contemporary journalism which asserts like Humpty Dumpty that words can mean whatever a headline writer wants them to mean. It requires a respect for scientific logic which considers causes and effects rather than diminishing everything to the random agenda of "News Just In".

Capitalism, because it would perish by the force of mass intelligence if enough people thought about it, cannot create an environment conducive to intelligent reflection. Indeed, the more it goes on, the more it will tolerate more elaborate and sophisticated diversions from reasoned thought. And the more socialists will need to warn against those diversions and remind their fellow human beings:

Your brain is the greatest weapon you possess; your ability to communicate is your tool of liberation; thinking, speaking and organising democratically and intelligently you are a force that cannot be defeated by the babble of a worn-out social system.

Socialist Standard December 1997 (author: S.Coleman)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"The Dead Russians Society"

Depending which set of dates you go by,here is a classic article about the leftists who will be celebrating 90 years since the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia. - Gray

Anyone want to buy a dozen statues of Lenin? The recent recession in the Lenin—statue works is terminal. Now that Sir Nikolai Ceauceascu and his mates have bitten the dust or headed off to their holiday homes in North Korea, only a few fossilised Chinese and Cuban academics are still paid to sing the praises of dead Russians.

In the 1920s Lenin—worship was all the rage. Naive leftists from Tottenham to Turin would dutifully repeat the Bolshevik liturgy to whoever could be persuaded to listen. Russia, it was said, had had the first ever socialist revolution. It was led by Lenin who had translated Marx’s theories into practice. If you wanted to see socialism in all its living glory, look no further than the centralised hell—holes of the Kremlin—ruled state dictatorships. That was "the line". Here was the leading Labour politician, George Lansbury, returning from Moscow as a born—again Bolshevik:

In my judgement, no set of men and women responsible for a revolution ever made fewer mistakes or carried their revolution through with less interference with the rights of individuals, or with less terrorism and destruction, than the men in control in Russia.
(What I Saw In Russia, p. xii, 1920).

Lenin, wrote Lansbury, exhibited "devotion to the cause of humanity" and Trotsky, whom he never even met, was said to be "one of the greatest leaders of men ever." This elevation of demagogic Russian history—makers was one of the most sickening characteristics of the ecstasies with which the deluded praised their gods. Of course, you had to be up with the fashions. One year Trotsky was your main man and Bukharin on historical materialism was second to none; a little later Trotsky was a viper and Stalin repaid Bukharin’s servility by liquidating him.

In the 197Os the present writer went to a "Marxist Conference" where sects prepared to become vanguards while the world outside listened to Gary Glitter and wore flowery ties. It was a day—long event and a conveyor belt of gesticulating gurus were taking turns explaining how the storming of the Winter Palace by the war— weary Russian peasants (known in leftist circies as the brave proletarian masses) could be reproduced in Manchester if only the Trots could fiddle enough votes at the forthcoming regional NALGO conference. One speaker accused another of being a Stalinist. A woman selling papers at the door told a rival paper—seller that he was clearly unfamiliar with Preobrazhensky, at which he retaliated devilishly with the wounding observation that she had clearly more in common with Zinoviev and Kamenev than Lenin. I pointed out that she had a voice not unlike Cilla Black's and was instantly dismissed as a Menshevik stooge. Half a century after the Bolshevik coup and even the vocabularly of abuse was stale Russian.

Sterile dogma

As long as the Leninist Empire remained, the blood—flow into this queer movement of dead—Russian worshippers did not cease. Cheap editions of Lenin’s anti—socialist speeches and writings rolled off Moscow printing presses like Bibles from the Catholic Truth Society. Now that it has become apparent that the victims of state capitalism were the first to want to cast off religious Leninism, only the most entrenched believers can carry on the faith. The present writer paid his annual visit to the Hampstead Morning Star bazaar at the end of last summer. It is always a good place to pick up some cheap editions of long—wanted volumes. But last year, with the Berlin Wall gone, the August coup failed and "Communist" economists busy planning the free market, there was something unusually bizarre about the bazaar.

Old women sitting behind stalls muttered about how Gorbachev would see them through and a man of eighty boasted that he was a hundred years before his time and looked forward to the time when starving East Germans would turn to Lenin and repent for their disaffection. An old Stalinist addressed a young Morning Star reader (perhaps the young Morning Star reader) about how he had visited collective farms in Bulgaria and never seen such happiness in his life. Looking around the bazaar, the cemetry of lost dreams, it was easy to see that even ignorance is not always bliss. Their god had died. A bust of Lenin was on sale for fifty pence; I bought it to put next to the burglar alarm and the flick—knife that are being carefully preserved for the Museum of Capitalist Madness that needs to be set up once we have a socialist world.

The bizarre, fetishised attachments of geriatric Bolshevik dogmatists need not detain us. They will die. and with them their illusions. Nobody will be selling Soviet Weekly in the year 2000: in fact, the paper no longer exists and never will again. But what of young Leninists? Why young Leninists? What can it be that makes any one with genuine hatred for capitalism and a desire for social transformation still adhere to these sterile dogmas?

Part of the answer lies in the development of a mythology about the Russian revolution: wishful belief has replaced verifiable history and the end—result is a statement like this one, in a leaflet handed out by the International Communist Current: "October was a revolution in the real sense of the term: the overthrow of one class by another". Of which class by which? In the Russia of 1917 the vast majority of the population were illiterate peasants who wanted peace, land and bread. They wanted property society, not socialism. The Bolsheviks pandered to these non—socialist millions, and they won acquiescence from the politically unconscious workers. especially after the Kornilov coup of August 1917. But when the Constituent Assembly elections came in 1918 a majority of Russian workers and peasants did not vote for the Bolsheviks who, regardless of the majority will, took dictatorial state power.

Undemocratic arrogance

In a remarkably absurd eighty—page article in the SWP's International Socialism (Autumn 1991), John Rees attempts to defend the tactics of the Leninist dictators over the proletariat. Rees and the SWP realise that everything they stand for depends upon the validity of the strategy adopted by the Dead Russians of 1917. Rees, following Lenin, argues that the problem facing the Bolshevik revolution was the failure of the workers in the rest of Europe to follow the Bolshevik lead. This failure is explained thus:

What was lacking in these revolutionary upheavals was not the objective European—wide crisis. Neither was it the willingness of workers to struggle for power. What was lacking was a leadership of sufficient clarity and an organisation with a core of sufficiently experienced members to successfully lead these movements to power.
(p. 9. Our emphasis).

So, all across Europe in 1917 the workers were rëady for socialist revolution, but what they needed, says this SWP leader, were a gang of good leaders— like Lenin and Trotsky, like Rees and the SWP. If only they were there at the time. In the course of this defence Rees justifies the Red Terror of the Cheka and the GPU, supports the massacre of the sailors at Kronstadt who wanted an end to Bolshevik totalitarianism within the soviets ("Had the Kronstadters demands for soviets without parties been realised théy would have expressed the ferocious, elemental hostility of the peasants to the Bolsheviks" (p. 63)) and argues the case for the 1921 ban on parties dissenting from the leadership on the grounds that "the Workers Opposition’s plans could only have led to a disintegration of the regime" (p. 67). Such explicit support for such disgustingly undemocratic politics should he enough to dismiss the SWP from the minds of anyone whose conception of socialism is not perverted by deeply authoritarian beliefs.

Rees defends most ot the Bolshevik actions against the workers (his article is entitled "In Defence of October", after all — even though the revolution was in November), but even he will not openly defend the Bolshevik closure of the Constituent Assembly because they lost the election. Instead, historical myth is invoked and we are told that the Bolsheviks really won the 1918 election, but the results did not reflect this. Other Leninists are rather less coy about the crushing of the elected Assembly by the Bolsheviks: the ICC’s World Revolution (November 199l) argues that the soviets, not the Bolsheviks, closed down the Assembly and were right to do so because the parties elecied to sit in it would not represent the working class. Apart from the historical fact that the Bolsheviks were the ones who smashed the Assembly by order of their own Central Committee, the ICC must be congratulated for their honesty: if you don’t trust the views of the workers at the ballot box you tell the workers to take a running jump. This is clasical Leninist undemocratic arrogance.

What future can there be for this subworld of 1917—set Russian fantasies? For how much longer will gurus like Tony Cliff draw in bewildered young workers, attracted to the notion of socialist politics by real experiences under real capitalism, to listen to obsolete orations about the ten days which shook the world and put world socialism back for a century? How much longer can Lenin and Trotsky exercise a sort of mystical influence upon people searching for a way into the creation of a new social system and not a tour of the ruins of failed ideologies?

The most unsuccessful merchant in the modern world must surely be the jerk standing in Red Square selling copies of What Is to Be Done?, the handbook for professional authoritarian revolution—wreckers. The most foolish political thinkers around now must be those who imagine for one moment that they can build a revolution upon the rotting corpses and stale rhetoric of long—dead Russian leaders. The Socialist Party is hostile to all defenders of capitalism, but none more than those who preserve capitalism in the name of fighting for socialism. They are not only crazy, they are dangerous.

(S.COLEMAN, Socialist Standard July 1992)

Further reading:

Russia 1917-67 (a classic SPGB pamphlet)

The Revolution in Russia - where it fails (Socialist Standard, August 1918)

Monday, October 22, 2007

On the brink

In an earlier posting titled 'Che's nuclear winter or a Socialist Summer?' reference was made to the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. This was just one of many such crises that year. You do not need to be a Socialist to realise that war or the threat of war is endemic to the capitalist system. This is true today as it was, for example, forty five (or ninety) years ago. Similarly, what we said then about war remains valid:

"...Cuba has simmered down for a while and maybe will move out of the headlines altogether, as the major capitalist powers find their attention diverted elsewhere. Who amongst us anyway would have risked a wager even six months ago that Castro's Land would be the focal point in a crisis which edged the capitalist world perilously close to another horror?

And now there is India's fight with China. This again is in a part of the world which has only recently become big news, as Capitalist China pushes her borders outwards in pursuit of her expansionist aims. She has been squabbling for some time over certain slices of Indian border territory and negotiations have dragged wearily on, but force is the final arbiter in the clash of opposing interests, as we have pointed out on many occasions.

The Indian affair highlights perhaps the most tragic irony of all, that of poverty stricken workers literally running to join the Indian Army in defence of their masters' interests and in ignorance of their own. No need for conscription, said Mr. Nehru; his government could take its pick from millions of volunteers. But ignorance is not something peculiar to Indian or Chinese workers, or people in "backward" countries alone. It is a failing common to workers the world over, even though many of them may not join the army quite so enthusiastically as their Indian brothers.

Yet sooner or later ignorance will have to yield to the growth of Socialist knowledge and the realisation that war is not just a nasty accident but has its roots in the private property basis of modern society. It is an ever present menace so long as capitalism survives. The sordid squabbles over markets, trade routes and other considerations, give way eventually to armed conflict, but no working class interest is involved, and no social problem is solved by fighting. When each war is over, all that can be said is that countless workers have died to preserve the conditions for another holocaust later on. Someone once said that the next war only really begins where the last one ends. We could not agree more." (Socialist Standard, December 1962)

China and Capitalism

Readers of today's Independent can be forgiven if they get confused:

In the days of Chairman Mao, capitalists were "counterrevolutionaries" and "poisonous weeds", but China's Communist Party has ceded some ground of late to "capitalist running dogs" and now lists people like Chen Ailian, a sharp-suited entrepreneur, among the ranks of cadres.


The new Politburo, which is expected to cede some of its older blood for the younger allies of leader Hu Jintao, will run a different brand of Communist Party to the group of 13 ideologues who gathered in a draughty hall in Shanghai for the first congress in 1921. Back then, there were just 60 Communists in China – now there are 73 million.

In her old life, before she bought the Roller, Chen drove a truck, but now she is chairwoman of Wanfeng Auto Holding Group – the largest manufacturer of aluminium alloy wheels in Asia and one of the top 50 auto parts suppliers in China. "Like workers, farmers, intellectuals, cadres and soldiers, private entrepreneurs are also builders of socialism with Chinese characteristics," said the 49-year-old, who represents the private sector in the booming province of Zhejiang.

The fiery rhetoric rings uncannily similar to the dictums of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, but her story is a parable of new China.

She borrowed £32,000 and rented a factory, then built her business up until her company, based in her home town of Shaoxing, was supplying components to the likes of Ford, Toyota, and GM. Chinese factories built 8.5 million cars last year, making it the world's biggest manufacturer and the third-biggest car buyer.

Private entrepreneurs were long excluded from the Communist Party, but now they are recognised for their contribution to the economy. Last year 1,554 capitalists joined the party, a small but significant number in terms of their influence. The rise of the stock market and years of double-digit economic growth have given rise to a new entrepreneur class and China's 345,000 dollar millionaires are more than welcome into the ranks of the party.

The simple fact is the Chinese Revolution in 1949 saw the development of state capitalism, not the establishment of socialism, under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship. The CCP developed into a ruling class.

What has changed through the decades is the way the Chinese ruling class has been recruited as well as more liberalisation of the capitalist system there.

The "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is balogney. It's capitalism pure and simple - the word "socialism" is being misused by a ruling class to hide the exploitation of the Chinese working class.

But heck, the media never had problems calling the economic system in China "Capitalist" yet still calling the country "Communist" the very next breath.

A clearer example of Doublethink if ever there was.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Class Society

Class means alot to the apologists for capitalism. They are very keen to say it doesn't exist. If the slaves don't think they are slaves then they won't revolt.

No classes is the aim of the socialist. In capitalism, classes mean a minority own the means of living and live in unearned luxury, all at the expense of the non-owning, exploited, majority of wage slaves. A truly classless society is when the means of living are held in common and used to meet human need.

Class society is the social ill at the heart of problems.

The Guardian reports today on class society.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Che's nuclear winter or a Socialist summer?

Will we need to explain for another forty years that Che Guevara was as Socialist as the state capitalist DPRK is democratic? Reading assorted articles on the anniversary of his murder in 1967 has been a frustrating experience. The Economist, for example, (October 13th 2007) describes him as "..a ruthless and dogmatic Marxist, who stood not for liberation but for a new tyranny." Replace Marxist with Maoist and that quotation would not look out of place in the Socialist Standard. But The Economist does make an interesting aside: "In Cuba, he is the patron saint: at school, every child must repeat each morning, "We will be like Che." In a similiar Orwellian fashion students in Venezuela chant Che's "fatherland, socialism or death." Moving swiftly on, The Independent (6 October 2007) has "two prominent thinkers", George Galloway and Johann Hari (!?), debating "should Che be an Icon?" George's contribution is as stimulating as his appearance on UK national television in a black leotard. By way of contrast, Johann the columnist whose other offerings include "taxing the wealthy is the best way to erode inequality" (fundamentally flawed and sleep inducing) provides a tour de force leading up to him quoting Che one year after the Cuban missile crisis: "the people {of Cuba] you see today tell you that even if they should disappear from the face of the earth because of an atomic war is unleashed in their names...they will feel completely happy and fulfilled"!

Unbelievable but true - rather like finding George and Johann in your bed! But they, as well as those Hari insists on calling communist, are political bedfellows who seek only to reform capitalism. A clear explanation of where Che went wrong and why a Socialist revolution is necessary is given below.

"...On one level socialists can sympathise with the life of Guevara; from his travels he became aware of the poverty and oppression of the majority of the people in Latin America. This made him a social critic and he was determined to do his part to change society. Undoubtedly the Cuban revolution in which Guevara played a major role brought some initial benefits to the people of the island. The worst forms of worker exploitation (widespread prostitution, the plight of landless labourers) were ended and advances in health and education were tremendous by comparable standards. But side-by-side with this went political oppression; the independent press was closed down, trade unions became an adjunct to the state, there was imprisonment and sometimes execution of political dissidents. Workers were expected to put in long hours in dangerous conditions to satisfy Castro's various industrial schemes. In a further parallel with Stalin these dictatorial measures were always justified by reference to an external threat. More recently over the past ten years with the ending of Soviet aid, the fate of the Cuban workers has worsened considerably under the Beijing-like gerontocracy of the Havana leadership. In the popular mind Che Guevara is never linked with this repressive state apparatus though he was an important element in its construction. Ironically too, while Guevara has always in the west been associated with the libertarian "student counter-culture", the regime of which he was a member carried out a severe and ultimately fruitless campaign against western pop music, "decadence" and homosexuality. In fact gay people have been treated particularly harshly in Cuba.

Confusion about the basis on which society is organised meant that Guevara was destined to become part of a doomed experiment in social change. That this same process has repeatedly happened to so many reformers is of immense frustration to socialists. We have a number of reasons for opposing the politics espoused by Che Guevara.We would point to the mistaken Leninist equating of capitalism with imperialism which as in so many other cases inevitably led down the blind alley of nationalism. A good illustration of this is that for the past thirty years in Cuba the 19th century patriotic figure of Marti has been invoked by the establishment as often as Marx.

Another disagreement lies in seeing military action by the self-chosen few as the force to change society. Socialists are not pacifists and have genuine sympathy for those fighting political dictatorship but we recognise that the only meaningful translation that can occur in society is when the majority of people on a world-wide basis make a conscious voluntary decision to re-organise their lives and change the system that they live under. At the heart of our difference with Guevara was his belief that an equal wages society would be the spring to a socialist summer. The essence of socialism is a moneyless society; the break with using a means of exchange must be distinct and irrevocable. Equal wages and labour vouchers must inevitably lead back rather than forward as they are based on, and assume, capitalist consciousness continuing. Denouncing Che with the easy benefit of hindsight would be facile. Socialists are keen to analyse and discuss such people's lives for the lessons to be learnt. We understand that historical figures like Guevara, Lenin, Garibaldi and Connolly cannot be wholly responsible for the societies that arose in their wake. Such an approach overestimates the role of the individual as opposed to the political/economic/cultural factors prevailing at the time. Hindsight does show us though that without a proper understanding of the material basis of society any attempts at social change, no matter how initially laudable they may be, will certainly fail." (Socialist Standard, April 1996)

Pie In The Sky When You Die

"Death is not the end and soldiers need to be spiritually prepared for war, according to the head of the British army" (Times, 18 October).

The Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, was reported as saying:

"In my business, asking people to risk their lives is part of the job, but doing so without giving them the chance to understand that there is a second life after death is something of a betrayal".

Actually, it's the other way round. It's a con to tell soldiers sent into battle possibly to die that, if they do, there's a better life in the skies (or, perhaps, a worse one down below). It's what Al Qaeda tell their suicide bombers too. They think they go to Muslim heaven for their second life. Is this the same heaven that Sir Richard tells his soldiers they will go to? And what about any of his soldiers who might be Hindus or Buddhists, their second -- or third, or fourth, or whatever -- life, is it to be recycled as another human or maybe as an animal or an insect? And where do his Jewish soldiers end up?

The sad truth is that all of the evidence suggests that we only have one life -- the one we now have -- and that when we die that's it. It's all over. So it doesn't make sense to throw it away dying to secure oil resources or trade routes or investment outlets for a ruling capitalist class. But it does make sense for the ruling class to tell those who fight for it that "death is not the end".

We are not saying that General Dannatt is a cynic. He's not. He actually believes what he said. But that's just as worrying: a person with such an irrational view as head of a killing machine.

And some people wonder why we in the Socialist Party take a hard line on religion.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another Leader Falls


The men in grey suits take care that their message in not misunderstood and after they had been in touch with Sir Walter Menzies Campbell Privy Counsellor, Chancellor of St. Andrews University, MP, CBE, QC he felt the only course open to him was to compose a curt letter of resignation as Liberal leader and, in a huff, get on the first flight back to Edinburgh, indicating that no one should waste their time chasing him because he would not be holding any press conference or make any further comment.

As he is a politician nobody was expected to take that seriously so it was not a surprise that the very next day he allowed himself to be interviewed at his posh home, under the chandelier in a room described by one correspondent as having walls decorated in “ruling class red”. In fact Campbell’s resignation was itself a complete reversal of his most recent declaration in the matter: for example on the day before he assured his party’s eastern regional conference that he considered himself to have the “the energy, the ideas and the determination to lead the party into the next election and beyond”. He might also have offered, as another qualification, that he was untroubled by any doubts about being inconsistent.

Much the same could be said about two of the likely candidates to succeed to the leadership. Nick Clegg might have stood when Charles Kennedy was ousted last year but he held back in favour of Campbell – which did not deter him from going on to undermine Campbell by letting it be known at this year’s party conference that he was ready to stand “in the future” – which came rather sooner than had been expected. Chris Huhne is Clegg’s bitter rival – which began when Huhne persuaded Clegg not to contest the succession to Kennedy by assuring Campbell of his support and then himself standing, running a close second to Campbell. Both of these candidates are a lot younger than Campbell, who fumes that he is “irritated” by the media concentration on his age, which he says is only a “temporary condition” – whatever he means by that. It seems to have escaped him that any preoccupation with youth as energising and progressive stems from its elevation into the kind of lucrative, ever regenerating, market so exciting to capitalism’s commodity based structure. Whatever “irritation” Campbell may feel will be familiar to the many workers who are condemned to a deeper level of poverty through being classified as unemployable through age, accentuated by the reduction of their hoped-for pension on the grounds of their employers’ financial priorities.

As Campbell stormed off into the sulky skies, his friends and enemies were in competition to embellish the distasteful episode with abject descriptions of him: “a man of honesty, decency and integrity…unique integrity and courage” It was as if they needed to forget his part in the execution of Charles Kennedy, enthusiastic enough to earn him the soubriquet “Ming the Merciless”. The episode illuminated how the political parties of capitalism owe their nature to the very style of the system, so that they purvey a cynicism born of inherent stress and exclusion, making a contradiction of the words Liberal and Democratic.


Britain, the Antarctic and the South Atlantic

As we have noted before there is a scramble for resources going on which is leading to growing tensions:

The United Kingdom is planning to claim sovereign rights over a vast area of the remote seabed off Antarctica, the Guardian has learned. The submission to the United Nations covers more than 1m sq km (386,000 sq miles) of seabed, and is likely to signal a quickening of the race for territory around the south pole in the world's least explored continent.

The claim would be in defiance of the spirit of the 1959 Antarctic treaty, to which the UK is a signatory. It specifically states that no new claims shall be asserted on the continent. The treaty was drawn up to prevent territorial disputes.


In related news, Canada is stepping up patrols of the Northwest Passage:

In an interview with BBC News, the head of the Canadian Coast Guard, George Da Pont, said: "Our view is that it's our territorial waters and that we govern it accordingly. Obviously the Americans and some European countries have different views.

"I assume at some point in time they'll get settled but we're pretty confident that they're Canadian territorial waters and that we should be regulating and asserting our control over them as we would over any other part of our territorial water.

"It's critical, it's part of our history; like any country it's important to assert your control over your country and your territorial waters."


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Parr for the course?


Noted political satirist, performer and comedy sketch writer John Bird has had some interesting things to say about his own political views on the South Bank Show (14th Oct). Interviewed by Melvyn Bragg as part of a special programme about the famous 'Bird and Fortune' comedy partnership, he recounted his own early involvement with the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

He joined the SPGB as a teenager in the 1950s when he lived in Nottingham and recounted how he had to pass a 'tough' series of questions in an exam before he could officially join, going on to say that he still essentially believed in its view of the world, even if he seemed unsure of the Party's contemporary existence. The interview included a montage shot of old issues of the Party's Socialist Standard magazine from the 1950s and pamphlets from the era, focussing in on a headline about 'why socialists oppose the Labour Party'.

Given that Bird and Fortune's healthy scepticism towards the market economy and those who wish to administer it seems undiminished and undimmed (as evidenced in their regular Channel 4 slots and throughout the rest of the South Bank Show), perhaps the Party can expect him to search them out once more . . .?


Sunday, October 14, 2007

The postal workers strike


Royal Mail keeps changing the goal posts in the postal strike. What originally started about a pay rise and impending redundancy plans, then involved the fight over pension entitlements and the right to retire at 60 years of age, has now become, for the Royal Mail mandarins, a campaign to end what they describe as "Spanish practices" - a racist epithet that is insulting to the many hundreds of Spanish who work in Royal Mail - and a demand for total flexibility at work.

What just is the "employers agenda", to use a term from the last big postal dispute and eventual agreement of the mid-90s which was supposedly the "way forward" for the business? Is there a hidden motive behind what many see now as a determined attempt by Leighton and Crozier to ensure that no settlement can be reached by negotiation? It is not as if the CWU hasn't a history of compromise or reached deals that often favour management over its own members interests to protect the industry's viability. We have always got to try and look at the bigger picture, which only the bosses and government have the blueprint of, and see beyond the fragmentary glimpses of their real objectives through the fog of battle.

For the worker, it is the money they take home and the amount of work that they must do to earn it that is foremost in their mind, and - let’s not hide from the reality - it is to get the most for doing the least. However, for management, it is the entire opposite. They endeavour to extract the most work out of its workforce at the most minimum of cost. The inevitable class struggle, in other words.

This is the postal dispute, the conflict between worker and boss. And it is management who are the aggressor in this dispute, with:

  • Executive action on their pension proposal cuts
  • Executive action through the imposition of later starting times
  • Executive action through the imposition of network changes
  • Executive action through the ending of Sunday Collections
  • Executive action against Engineers, the net effect of which will mean a reduction of 10% of posts.
  • Executive action through the cessation of Employee Share of Savings Scheme (ESOS).
  • Note that the pay rise, management's offer, that is ,which was due in April has not been imposed by executive action.

    Postal workers. who have withdrawn their labour, have offered to return to work for an increase in pay and more talks over working procedures, but the managers have refused this offer and are holding out and demanding that they accept their imposed changes unconditionally. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Business have told the workers to accept the management’s terms, while the High Court has just ruled next week’s strike unlawful.

    The Union want the issue of pensions removed from the pay deal as it is a Group-wide issue, not just for the postal grades. Royal Mail want union support to roll out new technology programme. The CWU say they will agree on the basis that there is a share for workers of any savings made. On a later start, the union say they will accept the principle but that each office should be able to maintain earlier starts if arrival patterns justify it. Isn't that flexibility? Certainly not the Luddite response against modernisation that Royal Mail's PR message endeavour to convey to the general public.

    Touched upon above was the question of whether Royal Mail and/or the government possess a secret plan. With a union that is keen to broker a deal, as they have always done before, but with a management that keeps switching the issues it may not be too paranoid of postal workers to believe that such a plan exists. Nor are they the only ones.

    "...the DTI, the department responsible for this huge national asset [Royal Mail] , has officials deployed full-time looking at alternative forms of ownership. Regular talks have been held with investment bankers, Royal Mail executives and Richard Gillingwater, head of the Shareholder Executive, which looks after the state's business interests... officials from the DTI have also held deeply hush-hush meetings with Royal Mail executives that have reached the point of discussing the detail of potential changes in ownership, not just the theory..." (Mail on Sunday, 22 August 2004).

    A partial flotation of Royal Mail would raise anything between £4 billion and £6 billion if a buyer could be found - a buyer who would like to inherit a low cost and compliant work force with a new more limited pension fund liability - a business with a defeated trade union and demoralised membership.

    As socialists, we shed no tears that this nationalised company may become privatised. Only those like Lenin who believed socialism, as he put in State and Revolution, means to "To organize the whole economy on the lines of the postal service" after the example of Bismarck's Germany, remain under the misconception that it matters.

    Regardless of ownership, the necessity for postal workers to organise within their industry and resist the attacks of their employers will continue and to which socialists will offer their support and solidarity , whether it is against the likes of Leighton and Crozier, appointees of the State, or against some rival mail company take-over, or a possible future Private Equity buy-out baron. The class war will only cease when capitalism and the wages system ends.


    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    America and Class Differences

    Over the past two decades, a growing share of the public has come to the view that American society is divided into two groups, the "haves" and the "have-nots." Today, Americans are split evenly on the two-class question with as many saying the country is divided along economic lines as say this is not the case (48% each). In sharp contrast, in 1988, 71% rejected this notion, while just 26% saw a divided nation.


    An understanding of the class nature of society is, of course, an important pre-requisite for socialist understanding.

    (Hat tip: Lew)

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Bury Capitalism to end religion and war

    The following short statement, titled Whether or Not the Firing has Ceased, appeared on the front page of a Socialist Standard:
    "Once again war rages in the Middle East. Once again men and women, deluded by the nationalist and religious slogans of their rulers, kill and wound each other. Once again wealth is destroyed and resources wasted. The sight of our fellow workers serving as tank fodder in this way sickens Socialists and our sympathies go to them and their families. We hope for an immediate end to this latest slaughter of our fellow workers in a cause which is not theirs, and re-affirm that only the establishment of world Socialism can abolish war forever."

    Can you name this particular conflict? If not, here's a clue taken from the same edition of our journal:
    "If ideas we¨re worn like garments, most upholders of capitalism would make their speeches in the nude. As soon as the...war began, both sides, claimed heavenly justification and support. The Times (8th October) reported that Dr.Abdel Halim Mahmoud...called the conflict a holy war and said:
    The enemies of God have committed aggression on Muslim lands and desecrated our sanctuaries. It has become the duty of every Muslim to make every sacrifice to liberate Muslim territories..
    ..Brigadier-General Mordechai Piron, chaplain to the..armed forces, said "Snap":
    [We are] fighting a sacred war against a cruel foe...prayers and blessings for your success in repelling the enemy. The Lord will give you strength...."

    The Socialist Party has for over 100 years argued that religion is used to divide and distract the working class and that war is endemic to the capitalist system. Thousands of workers sacrificed themselves on the altar of profit during the Yom-Kippur conflict, which started this month in 1973. How many more millions will die unnecessarily before we decide to bury capitalism?

    Saturday, October 06, 2007

    A Snap Decision?

    The Main Parties have had to be clever this conference season as the chance, and talk, is of a General Election being announced soon.

    The SPGB will, if an election is called soon, be standing a candidate in the London area Vauxhall. We will once again ask workers to vote for themselves for a change. The Lib/Dems, Labs and Cons stand for capitalism. We cannot field candidates all over the country right now, and thus urge fellow workers to show their opposition to capitalism by writing "socialism" on their ballot papers.

    UPDATE-- the election is off for now.

    Wednesday, October 03, 2007

    Sputniks, Space & Socialism

    The Pathfinders feature in this month's Socialist Standard (
    has started a lively debate (
    on the theme of Socialism in the Space Age. Some of the points raised are echoes of those made my Socialists fifty years ago. The excerpts below are taken from a piece titled 'Sputnik Legacy LET'S LIVE ON THE EARTH FIRST!

    "The sound made by the Sputniks is, in fact, not of man triumphant over nature but of one nation gaining prestige against another. Nobody knows whether Sputniks are weapons or not, but that isn't the point anyway. The big bangs, the bomb tests and other push-button horror displays are the nations making making muscles, like boys preparing for a fight that each hopes to scare the other out of; and now the Russians have made the biggest muscle of all, the visible proof of incredible technical development....

    Admire if you like the prodigies of science, but ask, please: Will the Sputniks - trip to the moon and all - make man better off?...Edward Cranshaw has remarked in The Observer that it is "hard to reconcile the gleaming splendours of space travel with the squalid and ramshackle makeshifts which are a feature of life in Russia." Not only Russia, however. All over the world, life for most people is a series of makeshifts, more or less ramshackle and more or less squalid....

    The Sputniks are augers of no new era, but fresh symbols of one which is only too long-standing and familiar. There is very little indeed to shout about in the solving of ballistic problems when the great problems of humanity remain unsolved and the need for their solution grows more urgent every day....

    What is certain is that, when he is able to be sane again, man will concern
    himself first with this planet and having things on it as they ought to be.
    (Socialist Standard, December 1957)

    Monday, October 01, 2007

    Wake up Gray!


    "Wake up you dozy person!"


    "Listen to the radio."


    "oi, you've fallen asleep again."


    Tax cuts, new economy, we are better than Labour. I am terribly sorry but I've heard types like the Con Osborne say it before. Really I have.

    "Oh go back to sleep then."

    Thankyou. Night