Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Scientology makes the news from time to time, often in connection with some of the religion's celebrity adherents. In Norway recently however, the creed has received some negative press because of the suicide of a young woman. Apparently just two hours before her death she learned how badly she had done in one of the personality tests used by the group. Believers have been quick to state that Scientology helps rather than harms those with mental health problems. Critics have taken the opportunity to state that the group is only really interested in making money. What you may ask is the Socialist position?

The Socialist Standard of March 1985 has an excellent article titled Sick...sick...sick... by Ron Cook, whose death last Friday robs the movement of a fine Comrade and passionate Socialist:

"Yet another circular from the Church of Scientology dropped through my letter box the other day. I must have received dozens since I bought a copy of the book Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health a couple of years ago by mail order. In this thick stew of bowdlerised psychoanalysis, electronics, hypnosis, counselling techniques, eastern mysticism and home-spun American philosophy, L. Ron Hubbard claims to be able to save the world. Since 1950 when his articles about Dianetics first appeared in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction the wilful jargon has grown steadily more dense and perverse, and Dianetics, the self-styled science, has given birth to Scientology, the self-styled religious philosophy. It uses a version of the christian cross as one of its symbols, copyrights all its signs and key words, and charges the bargain price of £2,424 for its complete library of cassette tapes. And they will not stop writing to me.

The basic message behind Scientology goes something like this: there is nothing fundamentally amiss with the natural world or even the human social world. What is causing all the problems is the irrationality of individuals, who have been mentally damaged, in some cases from their conception onwards. The only hope for the world is to cure all these people with "religious technology". But just in case that proves to be too much of a long shot, you can learn to become a theta clear, in which case you will continue to exist even if the world is destroyed by hydrogen bombs.

Scientology has obviously tapped a deep well of need because it now has "churches" and contacts all over those parts of the world which are subject to American influence. Its particular bland of pseudo-science with older religious ideas has appealed to otherwise sceptical minds. Its shift of emphasis from sin to mental illness is one that christianity has not quite succeeded in making, but the psychiatric industry has proved it to be a huge money-spinner for decades.

Scientology is not alone, of course. Transendental Meditation, Life Wave, and many other variants of Yoga and Buddhism which emphasise mental health and power have attracted thousands of followers in America, Australasia and Europe. Many of them have parted with considerable sums of money.

The world in which these religions and cults and movements have grown up is the post-war one of the nuclear threat. It is a world in which mental hospitals have grown steadily in capacity; in which the prescription of sleeping pills, tranquillisers and antidepressants has developed into a multi-million-pound industry; and in which the consumption of alcohol, marijuana and the hard drugs has relentlessly expanded.

But the trend is a complex one. It may well be true that men and women of today's working class (and capitalist class too) are more afraid, worried, stressed, frustrated than our parents or grandparents were. But it may also be true that such forms of misery are more likely to be recognised when the more physical deprivations of hunger, disease and squalor have been somewhat alleviated. Psychiatry is treating many of the sufferers, but then the expectations of happiness and fulfilment has itself been partly fostered by psychiatry. As priests and drug pedlars long ago discovered, the really lucrative trade is one in which the commodity creates a dependency and never fully satisfies the craving.

As Professor Thomas Szasz shows in his book, The Manufacture of Madness, psychiatry took over, in the name of science, those areas of sin, witchcraft, demonology, heresy and other non-conforming or anti-social behaviour that had previously been largely the domain of the established church. By giving scientific-sounding names to feelings, attitudes and patterns of behaviour and by defining mental illness in a way that includes everyone, psychiatry has grown into an established section of the medical and penal apparatus of modern capitalist society. In the totalitarian states of Nazi Germany or "communist" Russia, psychiatry performed a role like that of the Spanish Inquisition, rooting out deviants, torturing and punishing traitors and spies. In the USA and many other states "mental illnesses" or "aggression" or some similar expression has become a way of labelling and condemning ideas and behaviour which are not approved of by the ruling class.

Psychiatry grew up with the social system of capitalism. The "scientific" approach, the focus on the individual to fulfilment and happiness, the blurring and fading of moral and social values in a money-profit orientated society, the reality of individual coercion under the guise of helping and healing - all of theses are obvious facets of the ideology of capitalism. Like the other social "sciences", psychiatry is largely a rationalisation of oppression and a means of control.

There is something bitterly amusing about L. Ron Hubbard's making up the pseudo-religion of Scientology out of the pseudo-science of psychiatry. Each stage fosters the illusion of progress, of increasing freedom and control, whereas all that is new is the jargon. Like priesthoods down the ages, those of Scientology are assisting in the frustration and oppression of their followers, not helping to liberate them.

The unhappiness and frustration felt by millions of men and women throughout the world are not irrational reactions to the world of the hydrogen bomb, the rat race and the dole queue. Our feelings of helplessness and depression, perhaps our sudden bursts of fury and destructiveness, are not symptoms of mental illness. Unless we can see the one way out of this maze, there is no reasonable way in which we can behave in such a world. We are very much like rats in a cage. "Irrational" behaviour is only to be expected. It is not even peculiar to the social system of capitalism. There is plenty of evidence to show that such behaviour was common during the ages of feudalism, and also during the slave empires which came before that. But at least serfs and slaves were openly suppressed by violence or the threat of it. No one seriously questions the fact that they were exploited to maintain the power and luxury of the ruling aristocracy. But it is not nearly so readily accepted that capitalist society oppresses and exploits in a way which has a far greater impact on the individual member of the working class.

The oppression in capitalist society is primarily economic. Lack of any access to the means of making a living (such as the serf's strip of land) forces members of the working class to sell their brains or their brawn to employers. It is this state of dependency on finding a job which is the real mark of poverty or servitude, whatever the wage or salary may be when it is obtained. And if your expected social function, for which you have been schooled and trained, is to work; and if your standard of living , mortgage repayments, heating bills, hire purchase agreements, children's clothes, all depend on it, and then you are made redundant - it is hardly surprising you feel upset or depressed or afraid of the future or even a complete failure. When the ruling ideology insists through its advertising and education and entertainment industry that every individual has equality of opportunity., the only implication can be that it is your own fault if you are not rich and powerful and happy. If realising this makes you act in a surly, unco-operative way, then it is obvious that you need strong management - even the forces of law and order - to keep you in line.

Religions, ancient or modern, play their part in this continual process of mental control, of governing the great majority of the population without appearing to use force and without stirring up consciously organised opposition. They focus attention firmly on the individual's state of mind and personal behaviour. And that is where they lay the blame for social ills.
But psychiatry is the true successor to the mediaeval church. Although blame has been replaced by pity (or professional concern) and punishment has been replaced by treatment, it is psychiatrists who can now recommend committal to mental institutions "for the patient's own good", and can prescribe electric shock therapy and other punishments to save the person's soul from the devil - to make him or her a happy, useful member of society.

The misery which is being attended to by the churches and the psychiatrists or being deadened by drugs is the force for social revolution. It is the working out, through individual people, of the contradictions and conflicts which are intensifying in the social system of capitalism. It is the outcome of the increasing exploitation and oppression, but also the increasing education and awareness of members of the working class. It is the result of continually raised expectations set against repeatedly frustrated efforts. It is misery which cannot help but grow as the capitalist regime becomes increasingly obsolete and destructive. State supported or commercially opportunist ventures will, no doubt, continue to offer various mixtures of mysticism and mental manipulation to divert working class attention and anger away from the solution of democratic revolution, but these can only delay the outcome.

"Mental health", "happiness", "a state of grace", "being clear" - whatever jargon we use - the condition is impossible in a social regime where one minority class rules and exploits most of the people for profit. No doubt our fellow workers as a whole will resort to every blind alley in the maze before they opt for revolution, but there is no other way out."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Old, old story

On this day in 1965 the United States sent more than 22,000 troops to the Dominican Republic in order to prevent the establishment of what President Lyndon Johnson described as a 'communist dictatorship'. Utter nonsense of course. The Socialist Standard of June that year explains why:

"In yet another flare-up in the endless round of minor conflicts, the focus of attention swung last month to the Western Hemisphere.

Once again the United States Marines landed in that trouble spot of the centuries; the island of Hispaniola. This time it was the Eastern half of the Dominican Republic; not very long ago the marines were hovering of the coast of Haiti.

President Johnson's statement that

All we are in the Dominican Republic for is to preserve freedom and save those people from conquest.

was rich, even from such a poker-faced operator as the President. As any brief glance at the blood-stained history of Dominica will show, the people there have never had any freedom to lose.

In fact, for most of the time they have been ruled by corrupt and vicious dictatorships with occasional periods of civil war. And if the occupation of a State by the armed forces of a foreign power is not conquest, the the word has changed its meaning.

However, almost in the same breath the Americans came out with the real reason - fear of another Cuba. Dominica was in fact Viet-Nam in reverse. The United States has always been extremely touchy about Non-American states having a foot in the American Continent.

The Monroe doctrine of 1823 was proclaimed to prevent this, and the conditions of the modern world, with its nuclear weapons and its long range missiles, makes the idea of a possible Russian base so near home particularly unattractive.

Whether or not there were actually any so-called Communists in Dominica, is unimportant the possibility was enough. Russia and China made all the expected noises, and the usual moves in the United Nations, but obviously did not intend to risk a major war over a possible minor gain.

There was however a further complication for the USA, - namely the Latin American States with their fears and suspicions of their gigantic neighbor. In the 19th Century the United States could afford to treat South and Central America with contempt, but today they prefer to have amicable relations with them.

They have, over the last 30 years, devoted much energy to their "good neighbour" policies and to the Organisation of American States (OAS).

If the situation really demands it, and American Capitalism is threatened, Washington is quite prepared to go ahead and damn the consequences. Dominica, luckily, was not that serious, which saved all that good neighbourliness from going up in nuclear dust."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

the Rich List

The Sunday Times has published its rich list

The richest 1,000 people in Britain have seen their wealth quadruple under Labour, according to The Sunday Times Rich List published today. Even under Gordon Brown’s brief premiership their fortunes have soared by 15%, just as the financial squeeze and faltering house prices have hit ordinary people.

The collective wealth of the 1,000 richest has jumped to £412 billion, up from £99 billion in 1997. Total net wealth during the same period has slightly more than doubled.

“The 11 years of Labour have been absolutely fantastic for the super-rich,” said Philip Beresford, compiler of the list. “Having a friendly Labour government has almost been better than having a Tory one; it has neutered politicians on the left.”

The wealthiest man in Britain is the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal whose fortune has rocketed to £27.7 billion, up from £19.25 billion last year, thanks to strong global demand for steel. Mittal is now the sixth richest person in the world and far ahead of any other billionaire in Britain.

Does anyone believe anymore that Labour are a socialist party or a party of labour? When it is said class society is old marxist hat, just who are those people trying to kid?

The rich - the capitalist class - can thank the greatest philanthropists of all: the working class, "the Ragged Trousered Phlianthropists". They are rich because of your hard work, dear reader.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Let them eat cake"

The World Food Programme said yesterday that it has begun to cut the provision of school meals to some of the world's poorest children as the global crisis over food prices worsens.

Josette Sheeran, the WFP's executive director, said that the price of basic foods was rising so rapidly that a shortfall in financing for its food relief programmes had grown from $500m (about £250m) to $755m in less than two months.

About $300m has been pledged so far by donor countries to fill the WFP's financing gap, including $60m offered by Britain yesterday, to coincide with an experts' conference on the crisis at Downing Street, and €60m (about £48m) from the European commission.

However, the new money is too late to maintain all of the WFP's operations. A programme providing meals for 450,000 Cambodian children has already been suspended, and Sheeran said that a similar programme in Kenya, serving 1.2 million children, is facing cuts of nearly 50%.

Sheeran said the cutbacks reflected "heartbreaking decisions" forced on the WFP. "We need all the help we can get from the governments of the world who can afford to do so," she said.

the Guardian

Sunday, April 20, 2008

For anyone coming late to the world food crisis argument

For anyone coming late to the world food crisis argument, here’s a quick summary. As long as you are swapping rice production for Chardonnay grapes and burning corn in the fuel tank of your gas-guzzling 4x4 -- YOU DO NOT HAVE A FOOD CRISIS.

What you have is an extension of the existing crisis, as old as capitalism – a crisis of the poor’s ability to pay for food, caused by ejecting them from their land in the first place. Or did you think that the entire human race has been starving itself to death since the last Ice Age, and capitalism had ridden in on a white horse to save the day, valiantly struggling to feed the last few incompetent mouths? No. First people lived on the land, and drew their sustenance from it. Then they were driven off.

The fact is, capitalism works on pre-capitalist arrangements, mostly farmers, in this way: it throws them off their land by force, either nakedly with the likes of the Janjaweed, or through the state with Enclosures and the like. This creates a small group of farming capitalists and a dispossessed rural proletariat to work the land they used to own: anyone no longer need to work the land for profit, anyone who used to just live on the land, not milking it for its last erg of profit, is left to starve. Of course, since this proletariat can now be laid off at will, this process is continuous: as capitalism’s times become bad, or as new innovations mean less labour is required on the fields, more and more people are thrown out to starve.

And the damnedest part of it, the part that is really sending us all to hell? – The fact that we in the West were made to buy the idea that it’s All Their Fault. Breeding all over the place, what were they thinking? Feckless, lazy, ignorant subjects of ridicule. The Irish got the same treatment after the Potato Famine, when ‘free market’ policies meant that they weren’t even sent grain to last a winter. The insult to their lives and livelihoods is backed up by - straightforward insult.

No, what we have is a crisis in capitalism – but the crisis being that capitalism is working at peak efficiency. Capital isn’t a person, it’s a number, and numbers don’t have social relationships, feed their loved ones into old age, nurture children for the future, or do anything other than increase the size of the number. Capital becomes more capital, and people die. Within the figures, for those that like the idea of tinkering with capitalism instead of setting a torch to it, the maths are simple: producing grapes is six times as profitable per acre as producing rice, and more esoterically the price of a barrel of oil means that the same corn previously sold to fill bellies can be turned to ethanol and trade in a completely different market, its price effectively set now by OPEC. No-one who actually lived on the farm where these things took place, and drew their living from its products, would ever make such daft decisions: but these are not sensible decisions, these are market decisions, made not to promote human life, but a number.

It’s times like these that I come to understand David Icke, at least tangentially. If one employs Occam’s Razor, the idea of the world being exploited by hostile lizards wearing human masks becomes entirely plausible. After all, the only alternative explanation is that we do it to ourselves.

Tony Cakes.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Food security

The United Nations warned recently of a "new face of hunger" - it no longer has enough money to keep global malnutrition at bay. Is this due to drought, pestilence or civil war ? No, it would appear that there is now a fifth apocalyptic horseman stalking the planet - a hike in the price of food.

Annual food price increases around the world of up to 40 percent accompanied by dramatic rises in fuel costs have stretched the already flimsy safety net of global capitalism to breaking point. Josette Sheeran, head of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) earned his crust by identifying what might just turn out to be the problem: "There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market". Not for the first time, capitalism appears to have made history of recent attempts to reform it.

It’s no longer just the countryside that is suffering: famine is coming to the cities of the third world. There is vulnerability in urban areas never seen before. Food riots have sparked recently even in countries with no history of such events, from Morocco to Mexico, Senegal to Uzbekistan. An increasingly globalised society appears to be presenting the same problems worldwide.

The cause of the price rises is complex but is in part due to increased demand for animal feed from increasingly prosperous populations in India and China, who have rising expectations of a "western" lifestyle. Climate change has also had a direct impact due to increased extreme weather events affecting productivity. Indirect climate change impacts include the use of more land and agricultural produce for biofuels rather than for food. Is a starving child factored into your carbon footprint calculation? No sooner does the market system start to try and solve one problem - making production of supposedly renewable biofuels profitable in order to address global warming - than it appears to create another problem.

Of course the hungry and malnourished have never actually been away. Famines are just the tip of the iceberg: even between the droughts and civil wars, fellow members of our species die needless deaths (usually before their 5th birthday) and in their thousands everyday. The exact figures are not known or recorded: the Tomb of the Unknown Famine Victim grows bigger by the minute.

It is clear now however that, for every death from hunger, there is no genuine technical cause. For every child's life that hangs in the balance, sufficient food has always been available within a matter of hours' - if not in some cases minutes' - distance. It’s not a logistical problem or a matter of distribution. Neither is it an error in the market: the system is operating as it is meant to.

But isn't the market meant to send signals between consumers and producers ? That's its claim to fame surely, that it efficiently lubricates supply and demand, matching the two. In reality the signal which the market often responds to is not one regarding supply and demand but the one identifying profitability. The entire edifice of the money system is not geared to satisfying the needs of the majority for even the simplest means of living, such as food. Instead the objective is nothing more or less than profit, and it is an objective shared by the small minority who own and control the means of producing wealth to the exclusion of the rest of us.

If you are an individual capitalist, why sell your entire warehouse of grain for a small profit per unit ? And just to watch the market price drop? Far better to make just as much profit by restricting the amount you sell, and keeping the price high, and make just as much profit, while keeping your stock levels up for making a killing during the next famine. The invisible hand of the market can send all the signals it wants, but there is often an invisible hand picking up a telephone to tell fellow capitalists to keep stuff back, restrict sales and keep prices up. This society offers little security - food or otherwise - except the security to make profit.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Raygun and Gadaffy - terrorists both

On this day in 1986 American planes bombed the Libyan capital of Tripoli. The May Socialist Standard of that year carried the following condemnatory statement.

The callous incursion of US military might on Libya cannot be justified on the pretext of securing a better and safer world than the cowardly bombings by covert agents. Terrorism is no less terrorism when it is executed by the state and dressed up in the hideous morality of nationalism.

The Socialist Party condemns without hesitation the actions of the Reagan government and the assistance given to it by the British government, whilst warning our fellow workers not to be beguiled into an unwarranted sympathy for the Gadaffy regime that such actions may prompt. The conflict of interests that is involved here is not one in which workers anywhere have a stake. The background against which this latest tragedy is played out is that of a global system of economic competition. It is a system rife with conflict in which war is endemic - the brutal expression of its insane logic - notwithstanding that wars are fought by and large by those who have nothing to gain and quite possibly everything to lose.

The Socialist Party points out firmly that a free society can never be fashioned by coercion. Conversely, armed might can never be the agent of liberation in any real sense of the word. The attack on Libya can only foster a greater insecurity, a more insidious erosion of what limited freedoms there are as a result of the tightening spiral of tit-for-tat reprisals it will inevitably provoke. Behind all the cant and hypocrisy it represents nothing more than the latest addition to the bloodstained chronicle of capitalist butchery.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Capitalism's stool pigeons

Was Idi Amin the Ugandan dictator who lost his grip on power this day in 1979 "a splendid type and a good football player" (British Foreign Office) or a mass murderer (the deaths of 300,000 are attributed to him)? But, more importantly, do such questions help the enquirer gain a deeper understanding of history or serve to distort and disguise what really happened and why? This theme is addressed in the Socialist Standard of July 1976 in an article titled Amin, Africa and the World.

"The way to stop understanding of events is to show them as resulting from personal misconduct or mismanagement by those in charge. Had Hitler not been mad and bad, the Second World War would never have happened. Stalin's treacherousness made Russia what it is. But for a succession of weak and untrustworthy leaders, the Labour Party would have brought us all to the Promised Land. This view of history means we are perpetually invited to look at figures idiotic and corrupt, and put all the blame on them. Without doubt they are all as objectionable as stated, but that is not the answer. The high chairs in which these characters sit are provided by capitalism, and at some time of need each appeared to be the ideal occupant.

The special place of buffoon-turned-villain is held at present by President Amin of Uganda. Since his regime began it has been characterized by killings, culminating in the "Makerere massacre" of over 100 students in August this year. It has included the deportation of Asians in 1972, and a series of international incidents; in July there was a confrontation with Kenya, and on the 28th July Britain broke of diplomatic relations with Uganda. There have been attempts at uprisings and to assassinate Amin. On 1st August The Observer had an editorial headed "Getting rid of Amin".

The fact is that Amin's takeover in January 1971 was supported by Israel and favoured by Britain. A lengthy article in The Observer on 15th August recalled that the previous Prime Minister of Uganda, Dr. Milton Obote, had at the end of 1969 introduced a "Move to the Left" policy that was "Britain's reason for welcoming the coup d'etat 13 months later". On Amin's accession, the article went on: "The British Government was delighted...One of Amin's first acts was to de-nationalize the British businesses taken over by Obote." Israel viewed Uganda under Amin as as an ally against the Arab states. While these relationships lasted, Amin was presented as a not-umsympathetic clown; since they were reversed, the Ugandan regime has been shown as a reign of terror...

Amin's support in finance, arms and technical personnel comes from the Arab states, particularly Libya, which is in turn supplied by Russia. In the flare-up between Uganda and Kenya it was said that neither America nor Russia wanted to see a shooting war develop in this part of Africa and had advised caution to both sides and their neighbours. Nevertheless, the balance between Africa and Middle East states and the major powers which "handle" them is like that of the Balkan states and Europe before 1914. It is absurd to imagine that this position would be different if Uganda, Libya and other states had more amiable rulers. In some cases they had different ones, who were made unacceptable by the situation instead of the opposite happening....

The cause of war remains the same: conflicts among the capitalists of various nations over markets, trade routes and resources of production. Of course it is masked by diplomacy and and political motives. The last major war fought more or less openly for markets was World War I. The immediate factors in the modern world are control of strategic points and influence over particular sections, presented as a conflict between "ideologies". Ultimately, however, all wars are economic. The balance of power in Africa is between the growing and aspiring ruling classes of the states there, their deals for aid with bigger nations, and the bigger nations' own need for oil and minerals for commodity production.

In this balance, the grotesque Amin is entirely dependent on his sponsors. The continuation of the Kenyan oil blockade in July could have caused his downfall, and from the viewpoint of his Arab allies he is unreliable and disposable; no doubt their attitude is like Samuel Pepys's - "whether it will be better for me to have him die, because he is a bad man, or live, for fear a worse should come". Meanwhile, workers in Uganda and countless other countries not only under tyrannical regimes but have the prospect of being fodder for wars, in which the enemies are a matter of permutation. This is the result of production for profit. It does not have to go on."

R. Barltrop

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Report on Mau Mau

Jomo Kenyatta who was jailed on this day in 1953 following the first Mau Mau uprising the previous year, campaigned for the capitalist class in waiting, who finally achieved their 'independence' to start exploiting the vast majority of people in Kenya a decade later. Kenyatta was rewarded with the presidency in 1964.

In the July 1960 Socialist Standard FD Corfield's Historical Survey of the Origins and Growth of the Mau Mau received a scathing review as it pointed "..a sanctimonious finger of blame at almost everyone except the British Government and the narrow interests they represent..." Indeed, "..as an objective historical account of a particularly ugly piece of human history the report is useless and in every way unworthy of its title.."

"The main contention of the report is that leading Africans, and in particular Jomo Kenyatta, encouraged by sympathy from many outside sources, and unwittingly aided by the facilities provided by a "liberal" government, perpetuated rebellion as a manifestation of their personal malevolence. The report says, "Without the freedom afforded them by a liberal government Jomo Kenyatta and his associates, would have been unable to preach their calculated hymn of hate." Mr. Corfield is completely convinced that the government of Kenya was pre-occupied with "...the material progress of the peoples of Kenya." He says, "One has only to read the annual reports of the provincial commissioners to realise the immense efforts made by officials and unofficials to raise the material and moral welfare of the Africans."

"These are the terms in which the report ignores the naked and cruel self interest of the white landowners' mission in East Africa. For a rational society of controlled purpose to be confronted by a primitive social grouping over which it held immense technical superiority would involve problems of a most delicate sociological nature. Its approach would be scientific procedures, its motives would be humanistic. But when the envoys of European propertied society landed in East Africa to preach the Gospel of Self Interest and predatory exploitation they were interested only in smashing the social organisation of the African inhabitants and making them servants and labourers. Here surely was the bed rock basis of the Mau Mau violence. Mau Mau, though loathsome in form, arose inevitably from the indignities, the injustice and the sheer primary poverty of the African's plight. This is well known and the evidence for it is even contained in the government's own Colonial Publications. In contrast with the hypocritical Corfield report the African Labour Efficiency Survey, 1949 is a realistic appraisal of the problems of making the African a more efficient and effective wage worker.

In viewing the East African situation (in 1947) it says, "The East African comes from a tribal economy in which his human needs of sustenance can still very largely be met...He has not, to any significant degree, been bent under the discipline of organised work. In his primitive economy, the steady, continuous labour is carried out by women. In respect of the few working activities which in the past occupied him he was free and independent. Though the tasks he performed were prescribed by tribal law and custom, he could do them in his own way and at his own speed, for him time had no economic value. The work he did for others was not for wages, but was one of the duties arising out of his relationship with his fellows. He gave satisfaction by his work and derived a measure of contentment from it. In these circumstances he was willing to do what was required of him. To work steadily and continuously at the the will of another was one of the hard lessons he had to learn when he began to work for Europeans."

Even so, the report reveals the positive measures taken by the Kenya Government to coerce Africans into seeking wage employment. In the first instance the Kikuyu and other East African tribes were enclosed within small reserve areas which to an agricultural people was disastrous. In the terms of the report, South Nyeri, one of the three component districts comprising the Kikuyu reserved lands, had a population estimated in 1944 to be 542 to the square mile. This population density is probably among the highest in the world. As well as this the Government instituted a hut tax and poll tax, payable only directly in cash. Thus within two simple but brutal measures the authorities began to reduce the African from a dignified tribesman with a stake in his community to a dispossessed wage worker forced into white landowners' service or into industrial undertakings.

The report dwells in some detail on many reasons for the African workers' so-called inefficiency, including lack of education and poverty. It says, "Perhaps in some respects the greatest handicap is physical and arises from malnutrition." On the question of wages this report is equally forthright, "...it is clear that the wage plan does not ensure wages adequate to enable an African residing in any of the towns to bring up a family." Again: "It is therefore with more confidence that the whole survey team, including the medical and nutritional investigators, record their reasoned observation that they found much discontent concerning wages in relation to cost of living."

Apart from laying bare the ruthlessness of of British Colonial policy, even in modern times, the report contained a disquieting warning. Quoting a doctor who lived in East Africa for two decades it said "A doctor....can assert that the cause of the poor work output is more mental than physical. Malnutrition and disease play their part but, sitting and talking with the workers in their homes, one became aware of a very grave discontent which, unless constructively guided and relieved, may well threaten civil peace."

It was the violent repression that Mau Mau provoked that enabled British interests to finally destroy the Kikuyu and other tribal structures. The way is now clear for the rapid conversion of East Africans into wage workers. Mau Mau retaliation was bloody and horrible, primitive political struggles often are, but undoubtedly British colonial policy first provoked the violence."

P. Lawrence

According to wikipedia, during the period 1952-1960, over 10 000 lost their lives and up to 100 000 were interned in what is termed the Mau Mau uprising. For equally pertinent, incisive Socialist analysis of recent events in Kenya and further afield click on the link to the Socialist Banner blog.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Who owns the Arctic?

Printed on the floor of the main hall - yards from a baggage carousel featuring a stuffed polar bear hunting a stuffed seal - there is a map of the northern hemisphere, with the North Pole at its centre: a view from the top of the globe.

It is jolting to look at the world this way, instead of in the normal school-textbook fashion, with America on the left and Australia on the right. You realise how nearly Russia touches the US at the 52 mile-wide Bering Strait; how Europe is even closer to North America at the point where Canada meets Greenland. And then, encircled by the various Arctic nations, there is the polar region itself, not on the fringes or sliding out of view at the top of the map, but unmistakably central, and breathtakingly huge: a pristine wilderness, or, from another point of view, a treasure too tempting to resist.

From an interesting article
on the Arctic and the big race to get at its resources.

As an apropos, if you're in London today, don't forget the SPGB meeting on the politics of climate.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Election Blog

The Socialist Party is contesting in one of the London seats where our Head Office is situated,Lambeth and Southwark constituency in the GLA elections.There is a link to the Election Blog in the links section,The candidate is Danny Lambert.

Martin Luther King

Even before the killing of Martin Luther King, this summer promised to be a bad one for race troubles in America. Many city authorities, fearing an intensifying of the riots, had armed themselves with some formidable weapons.

The Negroes were also preparing and waiting, with no lack of black nationalists to advise them on how to use arms, petrol bombs and the like. This menacing situation was ignited by the assassination of Martin Luther King and the death of the advocate of passive resistance was, ironically, marked by a flare-up of the very violence he denounced.

King had, in fact, been loosing some ground to the groups like Black Power and this in itself is symptomatic of the change which America has undergone during the last twenty years. The suppression which the Negroes have suffered for so long was bound one day to erupt. For too long they have been denied the vote, subjected to a host of indignities and restraints. For too long has colour discrimination been a part of the American way of life. For too long has a coloured life been cheap so that, in some states, the murder of a Negro counts for little more than the killing of an insect - and the body silently disappears into some southern swamp.

The predictable result of this has been the Negro protest, the riots and the rise of the Black Power theorists. Kill Whitey and Burn, Baby, Burn are sterile remedies for the Negroes' frustrations - but who, or what, must bear the blame for them?

Martin Luther King, for all his courage, had little more to the American Negroes than a place beside the country's white workers. For most coloured workers, this is their highest aim - the right of access to the same sort of employment, the same sort of working class homes, the same sort of terms from the hire purchase company, as others.

Many have died in the long history of the American Negro, and many will die in the future. Is the result of it all only to be the exchange of one king of oppression for another? (Socialist Standard, May 1968)

Marx, Engels and the SPGB on the vote

A nice summary of our position on the vote is given in the latest edition of Weekly Worker:

I see that Alan Johnstone has ruffled some feathers. This can be seen from the petty insults Andrew Northall hurls at him and his party. Suffice to say, these do not strengthen his case, particularly as his assertion that the SPGB is “decaying, demoralised and internally fractious” is far more applicable to the numerous Leninist sects that try to pass themselves off as ‘revolutionary’.

Northall asserts that it “is true that Marx once maintained, between 1870 and 1883, there was a possibility of a peaceful transformation of bourgeois democracy into proletarian democracy in the United States and Britain”. Yet support for universal suffrage was consistent throughout his life. From 1852: “Universal suffrage is the equivalent of political power for the working class … where the proletariat forms the large majority of the population ... Its inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the woring class.”

Northall screams: “Johnstone even denies the desirability of proletarian democracy!” Yet did Engels not proclaim that the “working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat”? Read asserts that the SPGB “has wrongly attached itself to the idea that bourgeois parliamentary bodies can be ‘captured’ and used as a means to revolution.” Yet, as the SPGB correctly argue, this was Marx and Engels position.

As Engels put it, “It is simply a question of showing that the victorious proletariat must first refashion the old bureaucratic, administrative, centralised state power before it can use it for its own purposes.” I will ignore Read’s confused account of the history of parliament, to note that the SPGB, like Marx and Engels, is well aware that “history, logic and common sense tells us that when democratic means ... fail, the real powers behind these come into play.”

Nor did Lenin produce an “outstanding scientific study of the Marxist theory of the state and revolution”. Rather he confused Marx’s notion of smashing the “state machinery” with smashing the state - as Julius Martov showed in his truly outstanding critique of Lenin’s work (The state and socialist revolution). And, as Johnstone noted, Lenin’s “outstanding” work was ignored when the Bolsheviks created an executive above the soviets - which then, a few weeks later, simply decreed legislative powers for itself.

Moreover, Johnstone simply exposes how the Bolsheviks recognised “the desirability of proletarian democracy” only when the workers voted for them. When they lost popular support in early 1918, the Bolsheviks denied “proletarian democracy” by gerrymandering soviets (including the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets) to ensure a majority and disbanding, by force, any which did manage to elect non-Bolshevik majorities.

It does seem highly ironic to see Dan Read attack the constituent assembly for its “undemocratic content” when he ignores the undemocratic actions of the Bolsheviks against the soviets. Apparently, Johnston “has now completely abandoned any kind of scientific perspective in ascertaining the reasons behind the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and has instead fallen back on moral outrage”. Yes, how ‘moralistic’ it is to decry the deliberate creation of a dictatorship over the proletariat! Not to, though, suggests that for some ‘socialists’ party dictatorship is perfectly compatible with socialism, assuming the right people are in charge.

Finally, I suppose I should note I am an anarchist, not an SPGB member, and am presenting facts to aid a “scientific perspective” in the face of dubious Leninist assertions.

Number 715 here.

The CPGB, to their credit, have allowed a debate in their letters page on the soviets and Bolsheviks for a few weeks now. See the letters pages from issues 711 on.

By the way - the article I refer to is not from May, but April 1920. Some other articles from the Socialist Standard which may be of interest are this and this.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Socialist meetings

Readers of this blog might like to note that forthcoming publications or meetings by the Socialist Party will be announced on a new Yahoo group we have created.

If you would like to receive such announcements, send an email to: spannounce@yahoogroups.com or else look here.