Sunday, February 24, 2008

The big sleep

With regard to the US primaries, most Socialists would prefer to watch paint dry. The result of this public relations exercise is, you see, already known: they won, you lost. But for anyone out there who is still paying attention, this writer was amused by the reaction of arch-conservative types to Barak Obama's lack of a US flag lapel badge! Clearly they regard this a shocking lack of decorum. No doubt neo-Victorian McCain and equally reactionary bedfellow Margaret Thatcher would not be amused. Ignoring the throwaway remark of McCain that he hopes Castro will "meet Marx soon" or even that of his grandfather Admiral John on the surrender of Japan "I feel lost. I don't know what to do" (after which he promptly died), let us shift through the ideological muck heap in which such minds as McCain and Thatcher dwell in order to see what kind of values our rulers (would-be and otherwise) would like us to live by.
Thatcher's views on the 'good old days' were reprinted and examined in the Socialist Standard of June 1983.
"..We were taught to work jolly hard. We were taught to prove yourself (sic). We were taught self-reliance. We were taught to live within our income. You were taught that cleanliness is next to godliness. You were taught always to give a hand to your neighbour. You were taught tremendous pride in your country.. All of these things are Victorian values. They are also perennial values. (Interview with Peter Allen, LBC, 15 April, 1983)
Thatcher's tutor evidently has much to answer for. In what ways do these values help perpetuate the capitalist system?
Plenty of jolly hard work for the propertyless nine-tenths of the population means plenty of jolly big profits for the jolly old parasites who monopolise the means of producing and distributing wealth. The work ethic is inculcated into the majority of people because labour power is the only commodity of any value that they have to exchange. But the rich and powerful minority who control the means of life are not in their positions because they worked hard. The richest one per cent of the British population, who own between them more of the accumulated wealth than the poorest 80 per cent, live in luxury because the propertyless majority "work jolly hard to keep them".
How are children born into poverty, brought up in slums, educated in comprehensive schools and often destined to years on the dole queue, supposed to "prove" themselves? Capitalism is unable to provide the majority with any genuine incentive to rise above the mediocrity of daily existence. Those young workers who are persuaded by the advertised illusions of the system and try "to go for the top" are usually forced in the end to submit to the norms of traditional poverty. Capitalism is packed with junkies, alcoholics, broken gamblers, prisoners and cynics who tried to "prove themselves" and failed. For many unemployed kids, "proving yourself" means beating up blacks in empty streets - or doing it the legal way, and pulling triggers in the service of someone else's interests.
For millions of people it is simply not possible to live within the pittance they receive. Ten thousand pensioners died of hypothermia last December alone: could The First Lady of the Treasury teach those careless spenders how to keep alive within their incomes? Let Thatcher and the capitalists try "living" on the basic supplementary benefit, a disability allowance or £70 a week with three children to feed and clothe. For the majority of British workers, whose annual incomes would not buy a decent new car for a member of the parasite class, existence is some way short of living.
It's easy to be clean when there are servants to do it for you. But what hypocrisy it is for a class which pollutes the air we breathe with its industrial waste, because it is presently cheaper to have a dirty urban environment than a clean one, to deliver lectures about cleanliness. What is "clean" about war, which throws grown men into the filth of bloody combat so that the perfumed gentlemen of leisure can expand their economic power? Thatcher may have clean fingernails, but she has blood on her hands.
Capitalism teaches its wage slaves to respect others: teachers, experts, leaders, generals, priests, politicians - even invisible gods. The self-respecting slave is a rebel; he or she will be branded by Thatcher and her cronies as subversive, wreckers and revolutionaries. Capitalism demands deference, because only those willing to remain on their knees can be deceived into believing that the ruling class is mighty.
Is that why armies and weapons of mass destruction are pointed at our global neighbours? The politics of international militarism has nothing to do with loving thy neighbour and everything to do with the competitive jungle of the profit system where all who are not seen as part of "the group" must be seen as economic rivals.
All very well for those who have a country; but having means possession, and most workers in Britain own about as much of "our country" as they do any other: none at all. Why be proud of mansions you have built, but cannot afford to live in; cars you have made but cannot afford to drive; newspapers you have printed but have no control over; food you have manufactured but cannot afford to buy? As Marx and Engels wrote, when accused of desiring to abolish countries and nationality: "The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got" (The Communist Manifesto). Workers are taught to have "tremendous pride in your country" because, without a massive campaign of patriotic indoctrination, men and women would recognise their common interests..."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kosovo: Open for Business


After decades of uneasy existence as part of Serbia the newly independent state of Kosovo has emerged with its inevitable new anthem and new flag. But there are real political concerns best not forgotten in the ballyhoo and hopes for a brighter future.

One man interviewed by the BBC’s Mark Madell described how during the war he fled his village with many relatives under attack by Serbian troops. He had to leave his aunt behind and she was burnt to death. He said: “Kosovo is rich in minerals and rich in farming land, is rich in all other aspects. Here, we provided wealth for so many years for the whole of Yugoslavia, there is no reason why we cannot provide now for just Kosovo. That’s why I’m saying Kosovo has a bright future.” (Mark Madell’s Euroblog: ‘Mining Kosovo’s Future’ 29 January)

Alongside the declared humanitarian reasons for the UN intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s there were other, economic and political, considerations also in play. It is these interests that will shape future developments in the states of the former Yugoslavia and dominate the lives of workers there.

The New York Times (8 July 1999) carried an article by Chris Hedges about the Stari Trg mining complex in Trepca, Kosovo. Possibly inadvertently, it gave an insight into some of the considerations that surrounded the decision to intervene. According to Hedges, “The sprawling state-owned Trepca mining complex, the most valuable piece of real estate in the Balkans, is worth at least $5 billion.”

It was the reported view of the mine’s director, Novak Bjelic, that “The war in Kosovo is about the mines, nothing else. This is Serbia’s Kuwait - the heart of Kosovo. In addition to all this, Kosovo has 17 billion tons of coal reserves.” The Yugoslav web site (now defunct) described Trepca as having the “richest lead and zinc mines in Europe.” The capacity of the lead and zinc refineries ranked third in the world and the area as a whole represented some 80% of Yugoslavia’s mineral deposits. The problem was they were old and inefficient and seriously polluting.

According to Michael Palairet of the University of Edinburgh, a leading authority on the economic and social history of the Balkans,

"The Trepca system 'as a rule' lost money under Yugoslav socialism … Because of Trepca's incapacity to generate funding of its own for investment, all investment funding had to be financed externally, by fund providers who did not anticipate that they would see any return on (or of) their capital." In his opinion the $5bn figure quoted above was exaggerated. However while Trepca consistently performed poorly, this was not because it could not have been managed more effectively: "Unlike most heavy industry… Trepca had good mining assets and low cost access to energy, so on the face of things there were no structural reasons for its inability to trade profitably.” (European Stability Initiative )

Further insight may be gained into the economic underpinnings of the UN intervention from a report by the International Crisis Group. The report is interesting in that it provides further evidence that the breakup of the former Yugoslavia was in large part motivated by conflicting economic interests. The various regions of the Federal Republic had fallen out over how their assets and liabilities were to be divided and allocated. The differences were long standing and could not be resolved peacefully. In other words it was a fight among competing capitalists interests. One of these interests lay in Kosovo - the supposed “heartland of Serb identity.”

“Trepca is a sprawling conglomerate of some 40 mines and factories, located mostly in Kosovo ... Its great mineral wealth is the basis of the economy of Kosovo, but the complex is badly run-down as a result of under-investment and over-exploitation by governments in Belgrade.” (Trepca: Making Sense of the Labyrinth (ICG Europe Report N°82, 26 November 1999)

In 1974 Tito’s new constitution accorded the province near-republic status, with its own parliament and courts, Kosovo elites enjoyed a period of greatly increased control over their own resources. They used their enhanced authority to build factories in Kosovo that capitalised on their mineral production, created thousands of jobs, and brought some income into the province.

After Tito’s death, pressure grew for more rights and greater political and economic autonomy, but with little success. Belgrade reasserted control of the mines. Kosovo Albanian workers were accused of having stolen vast quantities of gold and silver and many engineers and technicians were fired.

“From 1981-89, Belgrade monopolised the export of Trepca’s minerals to Russia and elsewhere, reaping the profits in hard currency and oil, while compensating the Kosovars only with electricity and other non-fungible forms of payment.…

Trepca’s Kosovar management attempted to sell its products on the European market and to modernise the facilities’ modes of production, only to be foiled time and again by the Serbian government, which was in the process of “integrating” Serbia’s economy - that is, of tethering all economic sectors even more closely to Belgrade.

By the late 1980s, with the final integration into the Serbian system of the power generating system, Kosovars had lost virtually all control over their economy, as they would over their politics and civic freedoms.” (Trepca: Making Sense of the Labyrinth (ICG))

In 1996 Trepca had exported $100 million of products, making it the largest exporting company in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and an invaluable foreign exchange earner at a time when the country was experiencing grave economic difficulties.

Throughout the 1990s the ownership of Trepca conglomerate was never entirely clear. In November 1997 Trepca was under consideration for privatisation by the federal government in Belgrade. This process stalled when the ‘red business man’ Zoran Todorovic, was murdered by a gunman in Belgrade. Todorovic had been a close confidant of Slobodan Milosevic and was one of the richest men in Yugoslavia. He was one of a group of state capitalists who had been able to use their political connections to purchase state assets at bargain prices. (He was also director of Beopetrol, another state firm in the process of being privatized.) This was in effect a conversion of state owned assets into de facto privately owned ones by the ruling capitalist class.

Officials of the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), who took over governing Kosovo in 1999 after the withdrawal of Serbian troops, concluded that the complex was overall public property and therefore came under their authority in accordance with its mandate. The then head of UNMIK, Bernard Kouchner (now French Foreign Minister), confirmed that an international consortium had been appointed to run the plant. A $16m (£10.7m) investment package was also announced, funded by Britain, France, Spain, Germany, and the EU. The money was to be spent on a full-scale refurbishment of the plant prior to it being sold off. “We have no intention of closing any part of the Trepca mining complex. On the contrary, we’re going to make it safe and profitable.” he said. (The Guardian, 15 August 2000,

But it was not only the mines that capitalist interests had their eyes on. In July 2000 it was announced that a fund run by the billionaire George Soros was to invest $150 million (most backed by U.S. guarantees) in companies in the Balkans. Soros Fund Management would invest $50 million of it own equity in new businesses, expansions or privatization in the region and would have full autonomy to choose the investments in a whole swathe of South East Europe. Soros had invested millions of dollars in philanthropic endeavors in the region, but said this fund would practice “tough love,” and be driven purely by profit.

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation had agreed to provide a loan guarantee for another $100 million of investments. OPIC describes itself as a self-sustaining federal agency that sells investment services to American businesses expanding into emerging markets around the world. It provides a level playing field for U.S. businesses in emerging economies.

“Since 1971, OPIC has supported nearly $130 billion worth of investments that will generate over $61 billion in U.S. exports.” ( )

The Soros investment was conceived at a “donor” conference in Sarajevo in 1999. It was one of a series of efforts to take advantage of emerging investment opportunities in the Balkans. “A year ago, after NATO won the war in Kosovo, more than 40 leaders came together in Sarajevo determined to win the peace with economic investments”, according to National Security Advisor Samuel M. Berger.

George Munoz President and CEO of OPIC said he was pleased that they were making the region safe for international capital. It was a demonstration that “Southeast Europe is an important region on which we should focus our efforts, to enable it to rebuild and enter the global marketplace as a full partner. The Southeast Europe Equity Fund is an ideal vehicle to connect American institutional capital with European entrepreneurs eager to help Americans tap their growing markets.”

The Soros Private Funds Management, he said, was sending “ a strong, positive signal that Southeast Europe is open for business.”

Monday, February 18, 2008

What's not plausible?


Last week the Independent dealt with Marx in its “The Great Philosophers” series of free booklets. After recounting and discussing fairly enough Marx’s philosophy - mainly his writings on humans being alienated from their nature to engage in freely-chosen co-operative activity - their anonymous author went on to contest the “plausibility” of what Marx saw as the society that would replace capitalism:

“The problem is that the Marxist idea that capitalism will be replaced by a society free of systematic inequality and conflict just isn't very plausible.”

But why? Apparently because Marx

“had not experienced the horrors of the twentieth century when putting his theories together. It is not implausible to think that with the kind of hindsight that the last century leaves us with, Marx might have been less optimistic about human potential and the possibilities for a world without fundamental conflict.”

It is pointless - and silly - to speculate on what somebody from the 19th century might think if they had lived on until today. In any event Marx was very well aware of the horrors of his own and previous centuries and wrote extensively about them in Capital. He would also have been aware of people in his day who were just as pessimistic “about human potential and the possibilities for a world without fundamental conflict” as the Independent’s philosophy expert. Most people then, as today, considered that “human nature” was such that a world without systematic conflict was “implausible”, not to say impossible. After all, this followed from the dogma of original sin and innate human depravity preached by christianity, the dominant ideology in Europe and America to which Marx was implacably opposed.

The horrors of the 20th century - two world wars, many minor wars, many massacres - can very plausibly be attributed to the continuation of capitalism beyond its sell-by date. The wars of the 20th century were caused by conflicts of economic interests between the rival capitalist states, into which the world is artificially divided, over sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets and investment outlets and strategic points to secure and protect these.

When states go to war they are risking everything for everything; and, faced with defeat, some of their leaders are prepared to go to any lengths, whatever the human cost. Other massacres happen when different groups struggle against each other, often stirred up by interested parties, against the background of the artificial scarcity imposed on them by capitalism and its economic law of “no profit, no production”. The world could produce enough for everyone if only the barrier of profit was removed. If this was done, then there would be no groups massacring each other? Why would they?

Or perhaps the Independent’s writer thinks that it is part of the nature of Europeans to massacre other people by aerial bombardment and of Africans to massacre each other with machetes?

And he didn’t give any reasons why he thinks it plausible that a society of systematic inequality is inevitable and eternal and that, presumably, we should just sit back and accept this.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Was Nicaragua Socialist?

Following a decade of dictatorship the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua on this day in 1989 agreed to release some political prisoners and hold free elections within the space of a year in return for the closing of Contra bases in Honduras. Described as leftist, or ignorantly as Marxist or even a "beachhead of communism" (Ronald Regan), the most apposite label for Nicaragua at that time is state capitalist. A contemporary account develops this point:

"Under Nicaraguan state capitalism the major features of the economy are under state control. Unlike in Russia and and other "socialist economies" the Nicaraguan government does not directly own the means of wealth production and distribution but does monopolise the banks (which control agricultural credit) and all imports and exports, thus effectively appropriating profits from cotton, beef, sugar and coffee which constitute two thirds of the country's exports. The state also controls the means of processing agricultural commodities, so that although most land used for cotton cultivation is privately owned most of the cotton processing factories are state-owned; although 70 per cent of cattle are owned by peasant farmers 80 per cent of slaughter houses are state-owned. The state is under an obligation to use its power as a national capitalist to milk as much profit as it can out of the war-weary workers. This profit is needed firstly to pay the interest on the massive debt - in excess of $2.5 bn - which is owed to the big Western banks; secondly, to offset the massive flight of private capital which has taken place since 1979 - Nicaraguan capitalists are quite understandably prefer to invest in safer economic regions than one under attack by US imperialism; and thirdly, to pay for the destabilisation, which has been openly funded by the US Administration to the tune of $130 million in aid to the contras, added to which has been a US trade war against Nicaragua. Given these circumstances and given the imperative need for capital accumulation which is essential to an underdeveloped capitalist economy, the state as capitalist has no option but to act as a ruthless and exploitative boss.

As with the economy, so in national politics the FSLN [Sandinista Front for National Liberation] monopolises power. Technically, power is vested in the Council of State. Epstein and Evans, writing in the radical US paper, In These Times, contend that the Council is "little more than a sounding board for the policies of the nine-man FSLN directorate" (11 January, 1983). The FSLN junta has suppressed opposition parties and newspapers and, as is the usual tendency when a vanguard party monopilises the state, the new bureaucratic elite has established for itself a privileged lifestyle:

"As the FSLN consolidates its hold over the government, its leaders inevitably gain access to the prerequisites of power. Commandantes live in the wealthier districts of Managua, occupying mansions previously owned by the leading Somocistas. They are provided with chauffeur-driven cars, servants and bodyguards. Their government offices are air-conditioned, a most exclusive and important status symbol in tropical Managua." (A Critical Look at the Sandinistas, Changes, May 1982, p. 14)

One black marketeer quoted in The Toronto Star (12 April 1987) complains that "President Daniel Ortega and the nine commandetes are the only people in the country with money. The rest of us are dying of hunger". No doubt this quotation is printed by a pro-US Canadian paper as part of the ideological war against the Sandinistas but it does probably reflect the resentment which is all to common in the so-called nationally liberated countries such as Cuba, Vietnam or Kampuchea where the beneficiaries of "liberation" are the small class of bureaucrats who control the national state..." (Is Nicaragua Socialist?, Socialist Standard, July 1987)

Needless to say, the situation today remains much the same: the poor remain poor. Daniel Ortega however has transformed himself from 'revolutionary' leader of the FSLN to plain revolting: he was re-elected in 2006 as the catholic president of Nicaragua, one of only three countries in the world where abortion is totally illegal. Further, he has remarked that "revolutions of Iran and Nicaragua are almost twin revolutions...since both revolutions are about justice, liberty, self-determination, and the struggle against imperialism." (Source:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Too little, too late


Too little, too late

That’s the most that will ever be done under capitalism about the problems that global warming may bring. It’s simply that the way the capitalist system works rules out the effective action at world level that is needed to begin tackling the problem. It even encourages economic activities that contribute to it.

Capitalism is based on production being controlled by profit-seeking enterprises which, supported by governments, compete on the market to buy resources and sell products. This competitive pursuit of profits is the essence of capitalism. It’s what capitalism is all about and what prevents any effective action to deal with climate change.

Fossil fuels

Nobody can deny that global warming is taking place. Nor that, if it continues unchecked, it would have disastrous consequences - such as rising sea-levels and increased desertification - through its effects on the climates of the different parts of the world. There can only be argument over what is causing it. Most scientists in the field take the view that it has mainly been caused by the increase in the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere largely as a result of the burning of the fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas.

If this is the case, then one part of any solution has to be cut back on burning these fuels. But this is not happening. In fact, on a world scale, it’s increasing. This is because this is currently the cheapest way of generating the energy to drive industry - and the logic of capitalism compels the profit-seeking enterprises that control production to use the cheapest methods. If they don’t, their competitors will.

There are other sources of energy, in particular hydroelectricity and nuclear power, and the various countries into which the world is divided rely to different degrees on burning fossil fuels. Which means that they would each be affected differently by having to reduce reliance on them. It is this that has prevented, is preventing and will prevent any effective international action to check the burning of coal, oil and gas. The 1997 Kyoto Treaty, which sought rather half-heartedly to do this, was not signed by the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide (the United States) and deliberately excluded the second biggest (China).

These two states - whose rivalry is likely to mark the 21st century - will never agree to limit their burning of fossil fuels and put their enterprises at a competitive disadvantage with regard to enterprises operating from other states less dependent on them. No government of either country could afford to agree to this. And nobody can force them to.

Market forces

There are those who, recognising that governments will never agree to do anything effective, argue that market forces will eventually bring about a decline in burning fossil fuels. Oil is supposed to be running out. As it does market forces will bring about a rise in its price and to alternative methods of generating energy - such as wind power, solar energy and other non-polluting, renewable sources - becoming relatively cheaper. Capitalist enterprises will therefore switch to these other sources. That’s the theory and maybe in the long run it might work. But the long run could be a long time, by when it would be, as we said, too little too late.

But there are arguments about whether oil really is running out and, as its price rises, so it will become profitable to exploit less easily extracted and previously unprofitable sources, such as the oil under the deep sea. Already the states surrounding the Artic Sea are manoeuvring to be in a good position to exploit the oil underneath it. The same applies to coal, of which everyone agrees there’s enough to last for many centuries. New mines are already being opened in China.

So, within the framework of capitalism, intergovernmental co-operation and leaving it to market forces will both prove to be ineffective. Are we then doomed to suffer the consequences of global warming? Is there then no solution?

The right framework

There will be a solution and, given the right framework, humanity will find it. We already know that any solution will have to involve finding replacement sources of energy to burning of fossil fuels. What is needed is a framework which will allow rather than impede the implementation of this and the other measures. The capitalist system does not, and cannot, provide such a framework. It must go before anything lasting and effective can be done.

What is the alternative framework? First, the competitive struggle for profits as the basis for production must be ended. This requires that the Earth’s natural and industrial resources become the common heritage of all humanity. On this basis, and on this basis alone, can an effective programme to deal with the problem be drawn up and implemented, because production would then be geared to serving human interests and no longer to make a profit for competing enterprises.

There will be those who say that we haven’t the time to wait for the coming into being of this, in their view, unlikely or long-distant framework, and that we must therefore do something now. In this age of apathy and cynicism when any large-scale change is dismissed, this may seem a plausible argument but it begs the question. It assumes that a solution can be implemented within capitalism. But if it can’t (as we maintain), then concentrating on something now rather than on changing the basis of society and production will be a waste of valuable time while the situation gets worse.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What’s China’s game?


An interesting take-over battle is now taking place in the world mining industry. Towards the end of last year, BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, made a bid to take over Rio Tinto, the world’s second largest mining company. According to the Times of London (5 February) a BHP-Rio merger

"would create the world’s largest iron ore, aluminium and coal supplier . . . A merged BNP-Rio would control about 36 per cent of the world’s iron ore, which is used to make steel, and consolidate 75 per cent of that market in the hands of only two companies".

Steel-producing countries dependent on imports of iron ore – China, the EU, Japan – are not too happy about this prospect of an "OPEC for iron ore". But so far only China has acted. At the beginning of February Chinalco, the Chinese state-owned aluminium company, splashed out £7 billion in cash to acquire a 12 percent holding in Rio Tinto. Their partner in this was Alcoa, the US aluminium group, which last year lost out to Rio Tinto in a take-over battle for Alcan, the Canadian aluminium company.

This appears to be an alliance of convenience, with Alcoa interested in acquiring some of Rio Tinto’s smelting assets and the Chinese state interested in blocking any BHP-Rio merger that would threaten its iron ore supplies or at least having a say in the disposal of Rio Tinto’s assets.

There is a theory which sees multinational corporations such as BHP and Rio Tinto as agents of the Western "imperialist" states, but here the victims will be other capitalist corporations in the developed capitalist world who are consumers of iron ore and aluminium. In any event, there can be no doubt that China’s various state-owned companies such as Chinalco, Sinochem Petroleum and China Shenua Energy are agents of the Chinese capitalist, not to say "imperialist", state.

Capital accumulation is going on apace in China and China has a desperate need for the materials to sustain this (while it lasts):

"China is forecast to consume more than half of all the world’s key resources within the next decade and the country is seeking to control mines and oilfields to ensure its supplies. China is already the world’s largest consumer of every big resource except oil and accounts for 47 per cent of all iron ore, 32 per cent of aluminium and 25 per cent of copper." (Times, 5 February).

China is also the world’s leading consumer of nickel and zinc. To ensure a steady supply of all these essential materials, China has set up a whole range of state-owned capitalist corporations which operate on the stock exchanges of the world, doing deals with and acquiring shares in Western capitalist corporations.

Western financial journalists such as Patrick Hosking of the Times are intrigued as to "why is China playing the Western capitalist game" (Times, 5 February). Hosking doubts that Chinese state corporations such as Chinalco are interested in maximising profits or in maximising dividends to their single shareholder, the Chinese state, and concludes:

"In one sense it is encouraging that Beijing is buying – literally – into joint-stock capitalism. But it would be na├»ve to assume its business leaders are motivated by the same forces as their Western counterparts".

He is probably right. While non-state capitalist corporations are motivated by maximising profits and dividends to their shareholders, states can take a longer and broader view of the overall national capitalist interest. They need to take into consideration such factors as the security of supply of essential materials to industries within their borders. Many a war has been fought to achieve this. But wars are expensive and risky. Much better to try other means first, commercial as well as diplomatic.

This is what China appears to be doing via its state-owned corporations operating alongside Western corporations. At the same time China is building up its armed forces just in case this fails and other means of acquiring a secure supply of essential materials have to be employed (see for example

Monday, February 04, 2008

Terrorism is not Revolution!

The anniversary of the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (4th February 1969) and recent death (26th January 2008) of George Habash of the rival Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - described fatuously in this obituary as a 'Marxist nationalist group'', a contradiction of terms, - are sufficient reasons for republishing part of an essay from 1976 which shows the validity of the unique Socialist perspective on terrorism then and in 2008.

"..Terrorism is as old as capitalism itself, although most people believe it to be something to have arisen with the IRA. Unquestionably people are shocked at bombing and murder, but they would be shocked even more were they to look at the number of ex-terrorists who are now respectably installed as heads of government, or ministers of state, etc., within the areas of their previous activities. Who remembers the Stern Gang, the Jewish terrorists of the forties; the Mau-Mau of Jomo Kenyatta; the Algerian and Moroccan terrorists of a few years ago? Very soon we shall have Yassar Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose main talents consist in organizing the hi-jacking and destruction of airliners, the slaughter of airline passengers, and attacks on school-children with Russian arms, becoming a head of state somewhere in Palestine. The ex-terrorist, like the ex-prostitute who has become respectable, is more virtuous and dedicated to upholding the state authority on the one hand and while the other hand is firmly riveted to the state coffers. That's what terrorism is all about - who shall have the legal right of exploiting the working class within their borders, and who shall own and control the wealth of that community.

The fact that most terrorist organizations have high-sounding objectives like freeing the population from the tyranny of Imperialism, or restoring the rights of minorities, which incidentally is invariably coupled with territorial demands usually for mineral-bearing land or sea, does not alter the capitalist nature of their objectives, nor will it make any difference to the end result as far as the working class are concerned. A successful coup by a terrorist organization will only produce a change of masters, as capitalism will continue. The entire history of terrorist organizations from the 19th century onwards is proof of this.

No modern capitalist state will allow its authority to be undermined by a minority using violence. Only in a backward country under Colonial rule where the franchise is absent, and political representation stifled, can a nationalist terrorist organization have any chance of success. In any case, most nationalist movements are sponsored and supported by one or other of the big powers. In the world today the independence of little powers only exists on paper. Their rulers are errand-boys for the well-established world powers like America, Russia, Britain, France, and now China. There is always an antagonism between these major powers due to their conflicting interests, consequently they will support and encourage any action, violent or otherwise, which will weaken their opponents. The terrorist organizations of all countries receive aid in the form of arms, or financial aid, and ideological support in the form of propaganda from the erstwhile pillars of law and order. The present struggle in Angola between Russia and America is an example of what happens in fact.

Murder, assassination, kidnapping, are not just the preserve of the terrorist organizations. The Sunday Times of 23rd November 1975, carried a long account of a Senate Committee report on the activities of the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency of America. According to this report, the CIA made eight attempts to have the President of Cuba, Fidel Castro, assassinated at the behest of President Kennedy. The Mafia was even enlisted on some occasions to help out. Earlier, President Eisenhower directly ordered the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Congo, and the assassins of Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican dictator, received vital aid and arms from the American government. President Ngo Dinh Diem, the President of South Vietnam, was assassinated in 1962 with the connivance of the CIA. President Nixon is alleged to have been involved in the military coup in Chile which led to the death of Allende, and also the assassination of General Schneider, the Chilean army chief. This report makes very interesting reading, and shows the utter disregard for the alleged moral propriety where American capitalists' interests were threatened. All governments, like the Russians, are armed against dissidence either at home or in organizations abroad. The number of coups, purges and assassinations carried out by the Russian dictatorship will never be fully known, but the savagery and ruthlessness of those within our knowledge are almost beyond belief.

Violence is not something which is natural to men: on the contrary, the overwhelming mass of people are peace-loving. They may not love their neighbours, but they have a mutual respect, an understanding and affinity with each other. The capitalist plays upon this when it suits him. If violence has to be deprecated, as at present in this country, they will open the dustbins of parliament and release the hordes of resident neophytes, many of whom, given half the chance, would bring back the Rack. This unseemly bunch of tattered intellects then proceeds to denounce violence and talk about protecting civilized communities. There is, however, a distinction which they make (there could hardly be a difference) between official violence and unofficial violence. When the first atomic bomb fell on Japan in 1945, a number of Japanese schoolgirls were boiled alive in the swimming pool where they happened to be at the time. This was only one of the hideous results of official violence. Since then, millions of people have been killed or maimed in the multifarious official violent incidents known as modern war. Where is the condemnation from these opponents of violence? There is a difference in degree but no difference in principle. An official bomb will kill just as surely as an unofficial one, yet they are silent on this fundamental aspect of violence because the are ignorant, or hypocritical, or both, but above all because they are committed servants and spokesmen of the system of violence - capitalism.

War, violence and terrorism are not instruments which can be used in the establishment of Socialism. The modern state represents the ultimate development of the social power of coercion and destruction. The armed forces are under control of the political machinery. The control of the political machinery is based upon universal suffrage. This means that if the workers vote capitalist representatives to the seats of government, as they habitually do, they can, if they have a mind to, vote them out of office. It is not that the working class are enthusiastic supporters of capitalism - their experiences have taught them to expect little from any party. It is because at the moment they see no alternative to capitalism. This is the situation Socialists hope to remedy. The establishment of Socialism is not just based on the control of political machinery: this is the end of the process. Socialism is not a change of government, it is a fundamental change in the nature and purpose of society. It is a democratic body of social opinion which provides the mandate for the continuance of Socialism.

For this reason terrorist organizations can never be revolutionary or Marxist (a) because they are dictatorial (b) because they repudiate the class struggle, and (c) because their objectives are non-Socialist. By the same token, terrorist organizations, or any other form of minority insurrection, could never succeed in removing Socialism once established. Force cannot be successfully deployed against a body of ideas. Unless the working class are prepared to stand idly by and allow the capitalists of the world to wrangle over the division of society's wealth as if they, the workers, did not exist at all, they have to get control of the political machinery for Socialism. In the meantime, let the supporters of capitalism reflect on terrorism: their system caused it."

(Socialist Standard January 1976)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Army Will Make a Man of You

Hundreds of veterans, including many who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, are being denied vital help by the government to cope with the psychological fallout of war.

Despite ministerial pledges to improve support for British soldiers suffering mental health problems, veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are still not receiving funding for specialist medical treatment.


They don't sound very greatful for the "brave soldier boys" do they, since they have left them to stew in psychological problems? Do something heroic, they give you medals; get ill because war isn't particularly natural, they tell you to get lost.