Friday, April 30, 2010

Water war looming ?

Ismail Seageldin, vice-president of the World Bank, made a prediction in 1995 "Many of the wars this century were about oil, but the wars of the next century will be about water."

Now a bitter dispute over limited water resources is fueling India-Pakistan tensions.A long-running feud that has worsened in recent months as a dry spell focuses attention on Pakistan's growing water shortage. Three days of talks in March ended with both sides failing to reach a resolution.

Farmers in Pakistan's central breadbasket are certainly angry.
"India has blocked our water because they are our enemy," said Mohammad, a 65-year-old farmer in the town of Gujrat who goes by only one name.His farm sits a few miles (kilometers) from the Chenab River, which residents say has been shrinking since India completed a hydroelectric dam in its part of Kashmir in 2008. In some sections, water flows in only a tenth of the river bed, and nearby irrigation canals have dried up.Independent experts say there is no evidence to support those charges, but they warn that Pakistani concerns about India's plans to build at least 15 new dams need to be addressed to avoid conflict.

The origin of the water dispute can be traced to the creation of Pakistan and India in 1947, when the British Indian empire was partitioned. The split gave India control of the part of Kashmir that is the source of six rivers that irrigate crops in Pakistan's agricultural heartland of Punjab province and elsewhere.Under a 1960 agreement, Pakistan has the use of the three western rivers — the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — and India, the three eastern ones — the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi.India was granted limited use of Pakistan's rivers for agricultural purposes, plus the right to build hydroelectric dams, as long as they don't store or divert large amounts of water.

"If you want to give Lashkar-e-Taiba and other Pakistani militants an issue that really rallies people, give them water," said John Briscoe, who has worked on water issues in the two countries for 35 years and was the World Bank's senior water adviser.Briscoe said the dams India is planning to build could give it the ability to choke off water to Pakistan if it wanted to pressure its neighbor.

Jamaat-e-Dawa, an alleged front group for the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba organization, issued a statement recently accusing India of using "her disputed occupation of Kashmir to carry out a deep conspiracy of turning Pakistan's agricultural lands into barren lands and economically annihilating her through building dams and water theft...If India continues with her water terrorism. Pakistan must keep open the option of using force."

Write In For Socialism

Basically, there are only three ways of winning control of the State:
(a) armed insurrection
(b) more or less peaceful mass demonstrations and strikes
(c) using the electoral system

The early members of the SPGB adopted, in the light of political conditions, for (c) , but without ruling out (b) or even (a) should circumstances change (or in other parts of the world where the situations are different).But this was never understood as simply putting an "X" on a ballot paper and letting the Socialist Party and its MPs establish socialism for workers. The assumption always was that there would be an aware and active socialist majority outside Parliament, democratically organised both in a mass socialist political party and, at work, in trade union type organisations ready to keep production going during and immediately after the winning of political control.

Having adopted (c) , various other options follow. Obviously, if there's a socialist candidate ( as in the London , Vauxhall constituency ) people who want socialism are urged to vote for that candidate. But what if there's no socialist candidate? Voting for any other candidate is against the principles. So what to do? The basic choice is between abstention and spoiling the ballot paper (by writing "World Socialism" across it). The policy adopted and confirmed ever since has been the latter, a sort of write-in vote for socialism.

The first step towards taking over the means of production, therefore, must be to take over control of the state, and the easiest way to do this is via elections.

But elections are merely a technique, a method. The most important precondition to taking political control out of the hands of the owning class is that the majority are no longer prepared to be ruled and exploited by a minority; they must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule - they must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control.We need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party. The Socialist Party doesn't have delusions of grandeur so we don't necessary suggest that we are that party. What we are talking about is not a small educational and propagandist group such as ourselves , but a mass party that has yet to emerge. It is such a party that will take political control via the ballot box, but since it will in effect be the majority organised democratically and politically for socialism it is the majority, not the party as such as something separate from that majority, that carries out the socialist transformation of society.

They will neutralise the state and its repressive forces (there is no question of forming a government ) and then proceed to take over the means of production for which they will also have organised themselves at their places of work. This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, re-organised on a democratic basis, are merged with the organisations which the majority will have formed to take over and run production, to form the administrative structure of the stateless society of common ownership that socialism will be.

This is perhaps a less romantic idea of the socialist revolution but a thousand times more realistic. Which is why we think this is the way it will happen. When the time comes the socialist majority will use the ballot box since it will be the obvious thing to do, and nobody will be able to prevent them or persuade them not to. At that time it will be the anti-electoralists who will be irrelevant

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Empty Bellies - Full Bank Accounts

UN Food and Agriculture Organisation studies showed that world hunger has been rising dramatically. Hunger has risen considerably worldwide in the past three years due to the increase of the food prices and it is worsened by the economic crisis affecting the world, the head of the FAO Jacques Diouf said.
"In 2009, the number of hungry people (around the world) rose by 105 million compared with the previous year and reached 1 billion,"

Diouf said there are still millions of hungry people in a region where food production cannot only meet its own needs, but also allow a large surplus to be exported to other parts of the world.

It is the global profit-drive market system whose golden maxim is "can't pay--can't have". The basic problem is whether the propertyless masses can afford to pay for food.The market operates with what is called “effective demand,” which is about ability and willingness to pay.The fundamental reason for capitalist production is to produce for the market with a view to making profit. This overriding interest in profit does not change, no matter in which economic sector production is carried out. In agriculture, production is not carried out because people need food.Food is not produced because people need it to survive This is marginal to the main focus of the market economic system, which is the accumulation of capital.Profits can only be realised from a commodity if it is sold in a market and converted to money.

We are living in a world that has the productive potential to turn out enough to adequately feed, clothe, house, educate and care for the health of every single person on the planet, irrespective of where they live. That this isn’t done today is due to the fact that the production and distribution of wealth is organised on the basis of buying and selling, of trade. In socialism , food and other natural resources won’t be traded. They will simply be transferred from one part of the world to another as required to meet needs. This wouldn’t be trade since there would be no question of payment or of any transfer of something of equal value from the part of the world where they went to the part they came from.If people in one part of the word needed food it would be transferred there, as for instance from the wheatlands of North America. This wouldn’t affect local agriculture since there would be no competition between the two; there’d be no local markets to undermine since local production wouldn’t be for a market either. In fact, local agriculture could be given the fertilizer and equipment that they need - without demanding any counterpart - so that it can contribute increasingly to satisfying local food needs.
This - not trade - but production for use - is the alternative.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Growing inequality in the US

SOYMB has previously reported on the fantasy and myth of the American Dream , most recently here , and again we find ourselves reading another article , this time from the Economist , highlighting the increasing inequality and decreasing social mobility in the United States.

The American dream was simple: work hard and move up.In early 2009 71% still agreed that hard work and personal skill are the main ingredients for success. Compared with people in other rich countries, Americans tend to accept relatively high levels of income inequality because they believe they may move up over time.But now in a new poll 36% of respondents said they had less opportunity than their parents did, compared with 39% who thought they had more. Half thought the next generation would have a lower standard of living, double the share that thought living standards would rise.In education , rich, stupid children are more likely to graduate than poor, clever ones.

Between 1947 and 1973, the typical American family’s income roughly doubled in real terms. Between 1973 and 2007, however, it grew by only 22% — and this due to the rise of two-worker households , working wives , or , mom and dad both going out to work.In 2004 men in their 30s earned 12% less in real terms than their fathers did at a similar age. The driving factor, most economists agree, has been technological change and the consequent lowering of demand for middle-skilled workers.

In mid-2008 the typical family’s income was lower than it had been in 2000. Yet the richest 10% earned nearly half of all income, surpassing even their share in 1928, the year before the Great Crash.

To ‘escape from your class’, do not dream of becoming a capitalist. Work instead for a society in which class divisions no longer exist, just as billionaires and paupers, landlords and homeless, bombs and borders will no longer exist. This is what we call a socialist society, where the means of production belong to everyone, not to a small rich list. Where wealth is produced to meet people’s needs rather than to produce profits for a few. Where there is no social ladder but everyone has the chance to educate themselves in the best and broadest way possible and to do work which is rewarding and enjoyable, without ever defining themselves as a cleaner or a butcher, where everyone has the opportunity to relate to others as human beings rather than as cogs in an uncontrollable economic machine.

Increasing inequalities are likely to lead, if not to outright conflict, then to tensions and an increasing political demand and therefore political will, where representative democracies exist, to a likely challenge to an unapologetic inegalitarian capitalism . Capitalism is becoming more and more irrational. The discrepancy between what is economically and socially possible and what is actually happening has never been greater than it is today.The only way to ensure that every single human being on the planet has an equal chance to enjoy a life free from material deprivation is a world where all the resources of the planet have become the common heritage of all humanity.

Aunty's bloomers

"Lest there be any doubt, the law says that all Scots, Welsh and downright loony parties are second-class citizens in the context of broadcasting at UK general election times." - stated Alistair Bonnington, a former BBC legal adviser in Scotland.

The Beveridge Committee on Broadcasting in 1949 suggested there should be the opportunity “for minorities to turn themselves into majorities”. The BBC has continually ignored this recommendation.

The supposedly non-commercial BBC is subject to funding threats as well as political pressure such as the ending of the licence fee, or the appointment of governors, for example. The model for government intervention in the BBC is "the arm's-length principle", thus the BBC,are given grants and are nominally independent, but, they are capable of losing funding, or being otherwise pressured if they get too much out of control. This "arm's-length principle" is in effect the way that the whole capitalist class relates to the media, preserving the appearance of neutrality and objectivity, whilst retaining ultimate control.

Television everywhere since its invention and widespread application has been an instrument of ruling class propaganda and subtle conditioning. Something watched by people on average for about 30 hours a week is likely to have some influence.Air time on television that is devoted to the political,economic and social problems of society, not only during, but between elections, is given only to parties that support capitalism. Not only the traditional party political broadcasts but news, magazine and discussion programmes, give exposure to politicians, many of whom become instantly recognisable TV figures. Some even become media clowns or participants as celebrities in quiz shows and reality TV . The whole political conspiracy is wrapped in a package of infamous “guidelines” which the broadcasters use to deny discussion or promotion of alternative ways of organising the way we live.The BBC lay down certain fundamental areas of misrepresentation to which newscasters and political correspondents must adhere.

A party stating a case for an alternative way of running society would be disadvantaged, for in capitalist politics , its parties and its media, are not based on rational examination of ideas but on the performance of media celebrities and we can see that in the personality opinion polls of Brown Cameron and Clegg. It was all about presentation and very little to do with substance.
The Socialist Party has always held , its the case , not the face.

Cheap Labour !

In US TV dramas Brits are everywhere.Many Britons are recruited to play American characters. TV audiences might be wondering why. Speak to some producers working in US television and they will admit cost is an issue. British producer Andrea Calderwood, who worked on Generation Kill for HBO, agrees that cost is an issue.
"American producers are going for the best talent. Obviously there is an element of cost involved. Once you become an established actor in the US, you can command huge prices - so people are looking for fresh talent that doesn't cost that much."

Dominic West , appearing in The Wire , put this forward for the explanation "More value-for-money, that's really what it is. If they wanted someone experienced and I was American, they'd pay a lot of money - and I'd be better known, I suppose. We're cheaper."

English actor James Purefoy, who played Mark Antony in Rome, believes the network of British actors is perceived by American colleagues as cheap labour. "We are often referred to in Los Angeles as white Mexicans," he told an audience of British hopefuls at a seminar on how to make it in America.

No more than the humble factory worker , actors are a commodity where the price of their labour power determines their worth

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The 3 Stooges - What's the Difference


The televised debates between the three stooges of capitalism – otherwise known as Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg – are a stroke of genius.

As representatives of parties with a proud history of serving as the executive arm of British capitalism while in office, they have managed to agree about more or less everything, yet still convey to viewers the impression that have been having a vigorous debate and that they differ widely on policy.Very talented.

Let's be realistic. While there are historical reasons for the existence of the separate parties into which these career politicians are organised, the differences between them are superficial and often sham.

All of them stand for capitalism, its wages system and its production for profit.

The capitalist class is not particularly concerned about which of them wins, as long as one of them does, even if it doesn't like one party to stay in power too long in case the politicians involved overdo the cronyism and the corruption.

Which of them wins doesn't matter to waged and salaried workers either, even if many are tempted to choose what they regard as the lesser evil – Tweedledum in preference to Tweedledummer.

That is generally perceived by critics of capitalism to be the Labour Party, despite the fact it has danced to the tune of capitalism every time it has been in office.

Though I cannot forecast the exact outcome of the coming general election, what I can predict is that, come the final announcement, the capitalist class will have won again.

We will continue to exist in a two-class system in which every aspect of our lives is subordinated to the worst exigencies of the drive to make profit.

We will still have wars, unemployment, crime and 1,000 other social ills – and, try as he will, the winner of the coming election will be powerless to tackle any of them.

He will not control capitalism – it will control him!

John Bissett in The Shields Gazette

Monday, April 26, 2010

Things to come ?

Lord Digby Jones, a trade minister in 2007-08 and a former director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, commented after being introduced to two men in Swindon for a television programme about the young unemployed. "I’d...say ‘Get off your backsides and work’ and we should cut all your benefits and starve you into going back to work.”

He said that while looking for a job, claimants should carry out community work — such as cleaning lavatories. He believed anyone who refused three offers of jobs should lose the dole and be put in hostels and given “subsistence rations” of food and water.

Compassionate capitalism ?

Pie in the sky

A new study suggests that people in Africa are among the most religious in the world.

The following extracts from Weijagye J.K Tukwasiibwe's 'Politics, religion & Society' give an all too rare perspective: let's banish gods from skies and capitalists from Earth.

The impact of religion on mankind, especially the African, is that of doom. The principles of religion are similar and only differ on the surface. First there is a belief in a supernatural power, second there are prayers and rituals and, third, there's a belief in life after death.

There is, of course, no concrete evidence to support all this. The belief in supernatural powers, a god and a spirit world arose out of early man's lack of understanding of the universe and his own particular limited environment. This was coupled with his curiosity, desires and needs. Man himself has been creator and inventor of his own God in his own image (imagination). In fact it's not a case of God creating man but of man creating God - God and all gods exist in man's mind only.

For example, by extracting verses from the Bible and relying on them in addition to trying to put verses into practice, some religious groups have gone as far as destroying fruit trees, having "free" sex, not accepting family planning methods, refusing medical treatment, seiling their possessions and so on.

The Bible, which is claimed to be a holy creation and the foundation for Christianity and several other religions, was of course man-made and there are only a minority today who would accept it word-for-word. It's inconsistent and self-contradictory. In fact it would not stand up in a court of law. It is a book of assertions and many "educated" and "artistic" people are employed to blend truth and fiction in whatever proportions they calculate are most effective in misleading the public. The ideas that people should be contented with the life the market system gives us while waiting for a "paradise life" after this life.

We only have one life - this one. There is no afterlife, nor is there reincarnation. This life is the only life we have, and the only way we humans can improve it is by our own collective action. No messiah or saviour is going to come and lead us to a better life. We are on our own. Can something be done about this? Yes, if we set aside all the anti-human dogmas about "original sin" and "misused free will" to be found in the sacred texts and theologies of religions and look at the situation objectively and rationally.

If we do this we can see that the root cause of mass human suffering is that wealth today is not produced directly to satisfy human needs but for gaining a profit.

We don't know how the universe came into being or indeed that it did "come into being" (it might have always been there). The concept of "beginning" may itself be meaningless. What we do know about it is that forms of matter able to think arose at a later time than non-thinking matter and non-living (i.e. non-self-reproducing) matter generally, and in fact evolved out of it.

It is important to concentrate all our efforts on working for a better world for humans to live in instead of waiting for The Millennium, The Second Coming, The Age of Aquarius, or whatever.

To solve a problem you have to understand and remove its cause. The root cause of most of our problems is poor education. From childhood most folk are mentally conditioned into religious beliefs, superstitions and the like and overturning such a lifetime of mental conditioning can be a very difficult process.

Such education aims and ends at imprisoning the mind. Unfortunately dogmatists cannot give up their fairy tales so easily. It is just that sometimes being right is painful. It was for Galileo, Darwin, Copernicus and, of course, Marx. I often wonder how some of the great scientists of the past must have felt when people denied the truth of their findings. And I take comfort in the comment of the early 20th century mathematician and logician, Bertrand RusselI that "through most of human history most people have been wrong on most things".

"Human nature", according to religion is inimical to the patterns of social co-operation which a rational alternative would require. The perversion of distorting humanity's need for fellowship into blind acceptance of reliqious ideas has been a barrier to human understanding throughout history. But no one is discredited by testing their beliefs or ideas and being ready to modify them by persuasion. It's an easy thing to tell a lie, but it's difficult to support the lie after it's been told, for false testimony works against itself. What we should also know is that it's not our consciousness that determines our life but our life that determines our consciousness, and that consciousness, in turn, influences our life. In other words being determines thinking and thinking influences being. Imagination only needs consciousness for it to become areality. But if we stand for nothing, as is the case in religious beliefs, we definitely fall for anything.

"Politics and religion don't mix." Yet nothing wrong is seen in priests, parsons and popes commenting on social and political issues. Throughout history politics and religion have been interwoven. The Church and all other religious institutions have always been relied on to be the blood-thirsty recruiting agents for the killing machine of warfare. During both world wars priests and parsons on both sides were assuring the troops that "God was on their side". The first recruit in every war has always been God.

Many people are sincere in their beliefs. They are decent men and women who genuinely believe in the teachings of the various religions. They do not do so for any material gain.

I don't take the view that such people are silly, idiotic or mentally deranged, as many rationalists do. It would be foolish to imagine that people who produce all the wealth of the world are imbeciles. But how do we explain the apparent contradiction of intelligent men and women who behave in a sensible fashion in their real everyday lives but believe the world is subject to supernatural forces?

It would be a strange worker who blarned the malfunction of a computer on the acts of devils, or sought an exorcism of his electronic calculator. In their everyday working lives, people base their actions on a materialist view. lt's only when dealing with conflicts that they see as being between good and evil that they have recourse to religious superstitions and unscientific ideas.

At the weekend in their place of worship they profess all sorts of weird notions, but Monday to Friday in the workplace they are as materialist in outlook as any non-religious person.

We live in a harsh, competitive society where everyone's hand is turned against everyone else yet human beings crave social identify and companionship. The appeal of religion in modern-day society is that it offers at least the consolation of a future state of peace and harmony. It stresses brotherhood and social cohesion. The harsher the reality the more fantastic the solace offered by religion. It is no accident that early Christianity spread amongst the staves of the Persian empire, nor that in India and Africa where poverty is so harsh, we have the devout religious zealots.

In modem, capitalist, society the emphasis of social status is put on possessions. Everything has a price. Religion in its professed rejection of the material benefits of ownership stresses a desire deep in the human character for something more worthwhile than mere property ownership. In actual practice the religious bodies that stress the importance of something beyond mere ownership are often the most money-grubbing organisations in the world. But their appeallies in the apparent rejection of the values of the society that they all support.

No matter how different the various religions may be they all have a common basis-suspension of logic. The history of religion is one of retreat. In primitive society it claimed to be able to placate the mountain god or the river god. Such claims were made foolish by humanity's growing knowledge of geology and meteorology. Today religion no longer claims to control the material world. It has retreated into the social sciences. It blarnes all the social problems on the imperfectability of humankind. It can do this because the present ruling class cannot allow the unrestricted scientific investigation of the cause of poverty, war and other social problems. That ideas are a product of real, social circumstances is nowhere better illustrated than in religion.

The religious view sees workers and the poor as incapable of solving the problems that confront them. The consolation they offer is one beyond the grave. They believe that human beings should adopt a slavish attitude ... be humble ... be grateful ... and not attempt to abolish the ills that afflict them. Socialists view the human being as a superb animal that has adapted the natural world to meet its needs. We view with wonder and astonishment the magnificent accomplishments of men and women in the fields of science, medicine, agriculture and advanced modern technology. The working class should not place its faith in gods and supernatural forces, but use its intelligence and knowledge to bring about a world of social equality.

The transformation of society will not be brought about by the actions of gods, but by real people, determined to end the profit system and establishing a society for satisfying human needs. The perversion of distorting humanity's ne ed for fellowship into blind acceptance of religious ideas has been a barrier to human understanding throughout history.

As people sense a loss of control, in an increasingly complex and alienating world, they are more susceptible to beliefs in the supernatural-whether religion, magic or whatever. If one believes in God as a matter of faith then it is easier for one to believe that, for example, the planet Venus is made of cream cheese as a matter of faith.

But actually it's much easier to make out a case for Venus being made I of cream cheese than for the existence of God. At least Venus exists-it has a clear physical identify-which means that it's observable which God is not. There seems no point in trying to undermine people's emotional security. Indeed there seems very good reason why we should respect people's beliefs, as long as they are not dangerous or socially disruptive, although we may want to challenge them.

I think people who have religious beliefs present particular challenges. They place themselves outside human affairs by claiming that, whatever might be said, they will go on believing as they do, because they "believe in God" or some such. We should tell people that since they are not prepared to consider the merits of propositions on the basis of the evidence, and to change their mind if necessary in the light of this evidence, it's very difficult to have any kind of rational discussion with them. Discussion depends upon accepting a priori the importance of deferring to the facts and taking note of the rules of logic and the meaning of words. People who accept as an unshakeable belief that God exists, place themselves outside this logical frame.

If people cannot learn by way of reasoning properly and rethinking their ideas, certain events and circumstances may unfold from which some of them may learn. We hope they do, but we can't accept responsibility if they don't.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Irish Question

The Easter Rising lasted from Easter Monday 24 April to 30 April 1916. The Rising was suppressed after seven days of fighting, and its leaders were court-martialled and executed. It resulted in the death of some 50 volunteers. Four times that number of hapless innocents also died - unmentioned hostages to the inane violence that makes heroes.

The Commander-in-Chief of the rebel forces was a Dublin schoolmaster and poet called Patrick Pearse. He wrote in 1913: "Bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing", and two years later when incompetent generals and field-marshals were sending millions of men to assured death in northern France , “The last 15 months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth... It is good for the world that such things should be done. The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefield. Such august honour was never offered to God as this.”. His writings reveal a man that might well have preoccupied a psychiatrist for his alter ego was a soldier of destiny with an obscene inclination for blood sacrifice.

It is likely that very few of the volunteers were familiar with these ravings. But perhaps more pertinently they were unaware of Sinn Fein's economic vision – or, perhaps, its implications – where a priority was to discharge as a 'first duty' trade protection to a fledgling Irish capitalism. Prominent within the latter were those Dublin employers who had viciously locked out their exploited workers some 4 years earlier. That was when Larkin and Connolly were obliged to form the Irish Citizen Army. Its purpose was to protect union members from the brutality of The Crown forces acting as strike-breakers at the behest of those native capitalists. Ironically, in the Rising the ICA stood alongside Pearse and Sinn Fein in defence of that rapacious bourgeoise.
(abridged from a letter by RD Montague)

Marx and Engels on Ireland

  Marx supported and advocated independence for Ireland, a fact which is sometimes used to try to justify Socialists today supporting the demand for the establishment of a united Irish Republic.

  Two points can be made here. First, what Socialists should do in the 1970’s does not depend on what Marx may or may not have done in the 1860’s. And second, the circumstances which led Marx to support Irish independence no longer exist.

  Marx did support Irish independence but he did so primarily because he thought it would hasten the completion of the democratisation of the British State.

  After the failure of the insurrectionary war in Europe in 1848 Marx dropped out of active politics and devoted his time to the economic and historical studies which led to the publication of his Critique of Political Economy in 1859 and of the first volume of Capital in 1867.

  In 1865, however, he again became actively involved in political struggle through the International Working Men’s Association, or First International. His general strategy was the long-term one of gradually preparing the working class to win political power for Socialism. This involved Marx not only in supporting trade unionism but also in advocating various democratic and social reforms.

  Conquering Feudalism

At this time the bourgeois democratic victory over feudalism was far from complete even in Britain, then the most industrially developed country in the world, and on the continent of Europe what progress had been made was continually threatened by three great feudal powers, Russia, Austria and Prussia. In these circumstances Marx considered it necessary to support not only direct moves to extend political democracy but also moves which he felt would weaken the feudal powers of Europe. For instance, he supported Polish independence as a means of weakening Tsarist Russia. His support for Irish independence was for the same sort of reason: it would, he thought, weaken the position of the English landed aristocracy.
As he put it in a letter dated 9 April,1870:
"Ireland is the bulwark of the English landed aristocracy. The exploitation of that country is not only one of the main sources of the aristocracy’s material welfare; it is its greatest moral strength. It, in fact, represents the domination of England over Ireland. Ireland is therefore the great means by which the English aristocracy maintains its domination in England itself. If, on the other hand, the English army and police were to withdraw from Ireland tomorrow, you would at once have an agrarian revolution there. But the overthrow of the English aristocracy in Ireland involves as a necessary consequence its overthrow in England. And this would fulfil the preliminary condition for the proletarian revolution in England" (Marx and Engels on Ireland, 1971, pp. 292-3).

  At the time Marx wrote the English landed aristocracy still enjoyed considerable political power. The franchise had only been extended to the better-off urban workers a few years previously, and the majority of the working class were still voteless; there were not yet secret ballots; Oxford and Cambridge universities had only just been opened to non-members of the Church of England; the House of Lords could still reject any Bill it objected to as long as it was not financial.

  Democracy and Socialism

Marx may well have been right about the effect of Irish independence in 1870. Since the English landlords only retained their power to exploit the Irish peasants by force of British arms, a British withdrawal from Ireland could well have led to their expropriation. But this was never put to the test and the Irish land question was solved in quite a different way even before Ireland got independence. The series of Land Purchase Acts introduced between 1885 and 1903 enabled the government to buy out the Anglo-Irish landowners and then lend the peasants the money to buy their farms. By 1921 Ireland was largely a country of peasant proprietors. In the meantime the political power of the English landed aristocracy had finally been broken by a series of measures culminating in the 1911 reform of the House of Lords.

  What this meant was that by the time Ireland was about to get independence after the first world war, the changes Marx had expected it to bring—land reform in Ireland and a weakening of aristocratic power in England—had already been brought about by other means. His particular case for supporting Irish independence was thus no longer relevant. Besides, the first world war destroyed the three great European feudal powers—Russia, Austria and Prussia—so making it unnecessary for socialists to support moves to weaken them. In fact, once industrial capitalist powers had come to dominate the world, and once a workable political democracy had been established in those States, then the task of Socialists was to advocate Socialism alone, rather than democratic and social reforms that might make the establishment of Socialism easier. This is the position the Socialist Party of Great Britain adopted when it was founded in 1904 and endorsed by the World Socialist Party of Ireland in 1949, and it is the basic reason why we do not support Irish Nationalism and Republicanism.

  Industry, Tariffs

It is important to note that Marx’s strategy on Ireland was concerned with furthering the establishment of political democracy in England. It was not an anticipation of the Leninist theory of imperialism according to which independence for colonies will help precipitate a socialist revolution in the imperialist countries, though it is sometimes misunderstood to be this. Marx clearly writes here of independence for Ireland helping to overthrow the remnants of feudalism not capitalism itself in England. Marx clearly wrote of independence for Ireland helping to overthrow the remnants of feudalism not capitalism itself in England. Both he and Engels knew full well that, in the political conditions then existing, Socialism was not an immediate issue either in Ireland or in England.

  Marx had a good sense of history and, though he himself never developed the theme, realised that the struggle of the Irish Nationalists for Home Rule was bound to help the evolution in Britain of political democracy because both struggles were directed against: the same class enemy: the English landed aristocracy. A good development of this theme, drawing on Marx, is E. Strauss’ work published in 1951 Irish Nationalism and English Democracy. Strauss, incidentally, also brings out a point neglected by Marx: the extent to which the area around Belfast was industrialized and had become an integral part of the industrial North of Britain. Marx tended to regard Ireland as a purely agricultural country and so failed to see that while Home Rule and tariff protection for infant industries might aid the development of capitalism in the agricultural South of Ireland, it would have been economically disastrous for industrial Belfast which depended on Britain for capital, raw materials and markets. But, to be fair, Marx died before Gladstone’s first Home Rule Bill in 1886 revealed the determined opposition of the Belfast capitalists to the threat of being cut off from the rest of industrial Britain behind the tariff walls it feared a Home Rule parliament in Dublin would sooner or later erect. Engels should have known better, but he does have the excuse that although he twice visited Ireland he never went to Belfast. (Since he was there on holiday he can’t be blamed for this!) But if he had he would surely have recognised Belfast as a sister city to the Manchester of his youth.

  Empty Conspiracy

Engels, however, did state clearly that Socialism was not an issue in the Irish question. In 1888 he gave an interview to an American German-language paper and answered one question as follows:
"A purely socialist movement cannot be expected in Ireland for a considerable time. People there want first of all to become peasants owning a plot of land, and after they have achieved that mortgages will appear on the scene and they will be ruined once more. But this should not prevent us from seeking to help them to get rid of their landlords, that is, to pass from semi-feudal conditions to capitalist conditions" (Interview, 20 September 1888, New Yorker Volkszeitung, Marx and Engels on Ireland, p.343).

  Marx and Engels were much more critical in private of the Irish Nationalists —including the Fenians whose unsuccessful 1867 uprising had re-opened the Irish question for English radicals— than they were in their public pronouncements on behalf of the First International. They were particularly critical of the conspiratorial and terrorist methods the Fenians employed to try to release their members from British prisons, one attempt at which, the blowing up of Clerkenwell jail in 1867, killed 12 people and injured many more, most of them innocent members of the working class. But when two years later one Fenian prisoner, O’Donovan Rossa, a former editor of their paper The Irish People, stood for election to parliament at Tipperary and was elected (only to be disqualified), Engels wrote to Marx:
"The election in Tipperary is an event. It forces the Fenians out of empty conspiracy and the fabrication of plots into a path of action, which, even if legal in appearance, is still far more revolutionary than what they have been doing since the failure of their insurrection" (29 November, 1869, Marx-Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1941, p.274).

  So, although Marx and Engels can be claimed as supporters of Irish independence, they certainly cannot be claimed as supporters of IRA-type terror to achieve it. But whatever Marx and Engels supported, we in the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the World Socialist Party of Ireland do not agree that Socialists should support, or should have supported, Irish Nationalism any more than they should support nationalism anywhere else.

Socialist Standard, December 1972

The Rich Got Richer

New figures from the Sunday Times Rich List has just been published , and low and behold , that despite the recession , the rich are getting richer . Now , isn't that a surprise!

The richest people in Britain have seen a record boom in wealth over the past year. Their fortunes have soared by 30% - the largest rise in wealth since the list was first published 21 years ago.Much of the increase is a result of the rebound in stock markets and property values after the government injected hundreds of billions of pounds into banks and the wider economy to stave off collapse.

The 1,000 richest people in the country increased their wealth by £77 billion last year, bringing their total wealth to £335.5 billion — equal to more than one-third of the national debt. The number of billionaires has risen from 43 to 53, with nine seeing their wealth rise by £1 billion or more during the past 12 months. Top of the pile again this year is Lakshmi Mittal, the steel tycoon. His fortune has doubled to £22 billion, thanks to the recovery in steel markets. Last year the top 100 were worth 50.8% of the total fortune of the Rich List 1,000. This year, the 100 are nearly 54.5% of the total.

Philip Beresford, compiler of the list, said:
“The rich have come through the recession with flying colours. The stock market is up, the hedge funds are coining it. The rich are doing very nicely. The rest of the country is going to have to face public spending cuts, but it has little effect on the rich because they don’t consume public services.”

There is a class war and the capitalists are winning it!

Aiding War ?

Bob Geldof has recently accused the BBC of "disingenuous posturing", distortion and a failure to provide credible evidence that Band Aid famine relief money had been used to arm rebels. He also requested that journalists "stop venturing palpably untrue statements dressed up as fact".But according to a new book by the Dutch writer and a veteran of war zones Linda Polman, In War Games: the Story of Aid and War in Modern Times, humanitarianism has become a massive industry that forms an unholy alliance with warmongers. She cites a damning catalogue of examples from Biafra to Darfur, and including the Ethiopian famine, in which humanitarian aid has helped prolong wars, or rewarded the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing and genocide rather than the victims. Colin Powell spelt it out: "Just as surely as our diplomats and military… NGOs (non-governmental organisations] are a force multiplier for us, an important part of our combat team." The US government avoided the issue of planning reconstruction in the Iraq War partly by lining up 80 NGOs who waited in the wings in Jordan prior to the invasion, where they were fully briefed by the defence department.

Back in 1980 there were about 40 INGOs (international non-government organisations) dealing with Cambodian refugees on the Thai border. A decade later, there were 250 operating during the Yugoslavian war. By 2004, there were 2,500 involved in Afghanistan.Recent years have also seen a large growth in smaller organisations, set up to negate the bureaucratic practices of the larger aid agencies. They can be run by just a handful of people – hence they've been named MONGOs (my own non-governmental organisations).
Polman maintains that when aid organisations don't actively discriminate, the most likely beneficiaries of war zone operations are the powerful, rather than the most needy. Not only is it the soldiers and militias who are able to levy taxes on aid, cargos and the movement of charity personnel, and to steal or divert funds, it is also these groups and the elites that have best learned the images and triggers that attract aid.She says that while aid agencies may recognise their failings they are unwilling to address them because of the pressures of competition. Humanitarianism is a multi-billion-dollar business and if one charity pulls out of an operation, be it from moral or strategic concerns, there are plenty of others who will fill their place and solicit their funding.

If there is understandable public suspicion of private contractors, like project-management firm Halliburton, who profit from war, she asks, why are private aid organisations treated differently? So how would she describe the humanitarian agencies that in her opinion enabled the continuation of the Hutus' genocidal attack on the Tutsis? "Perhaps war criminals," she muses. "because we don't see it that way. We see it as aid agencies being placed in circumstances in which they have no choice. I'm saying they do have a choice. They have a choice of not doing it." In July 1994 the Rwandan Patriotic Front, formed from Tutsi refugees based in Uganda, invaded Rwanda to put a stop to the genocide committed by Hutus on Tutsis. The Hutu militias, and many of the Hutu population, fled across the border to Goma in now the Democratic Republic of Congo.Twenty-five refugee camps were built around Goma, supported by 250 different aid organisations."On all the food rations distributed by aid organisations," Polman asserts, "the Hutu government, from its tourist hotels, levied a 'war tax' to pay its army, which enabled it to continue its campaign of extermination against the Tutsi enemy back in Rwanda."

Does she believe that the charity effort, including Band Aid, in response to what she maintains was a war-created famine in Ethiopia, made a bad situation worse? "It did nothing to stop the bad situation. It facilitated the regime."In 1984 prolonged drought coincided with civil war between the communist junta that governed Ethiopia and rebels in the northern provinces of Eritrea and Tigray. In an effort to win the battle, the government soldiers, writes Polman, "sealed off the northern region and went to work. They shot men and boys dead. They raped and mutilated women and girls. They flung infants on to fires alive. They set schools and clinics ablaze, slaughtered livestock, burned grain stores and poisoned water sources with human corpses and dead animals.And then they invited in the international media to witness the flood of famine refugees." Following Buerk's famous BBC report, an enormous fundraising campaign took place, including Band Aid, and thousands of aid workers and journalists flew in. "They were forced to change their dollars for local currency at rates favourable to the regime," Polman states, "and this alone helped to keep the Ethiopian war machine running. Food aid was used as bait to lure starving villagers into camps. They were held there awaiting deportation to the state farms in the south. A life of forced labour lay ahead."

She also describes in detail the relative luxury in which aid workers often live in the developing world and condemns the way that aid organisations draw local staff away from vital industries by paying way above the domestic rate.Polman depicts Kabul as a city divided between the poverty suffered by its inhabitants and the luxury enjoyed by foreign aid workers who "can be found at a nightclub called L'Atmosphere with cocktails and glasses of wine, or relaxing in the swimming pool near the bar".
More can be read at The Observer

Charity is seen as the milk of human kindness and in Cambodia in 1979,the reporter William Shawcross discovered the US La Leche League offering to send a Boeing 747 filled with lactating American mothers ready to suckle Khmer orphans.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Left Unity

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is an umbrella organisation of left-leaning trade unionists and assorted Trotskyist groups , who have joined together to oppose public spending cuts and privatisation, and to demand the nationalisation of major companies and of the banks in a wish-list of reforms.With trade unions and left wingers talking about the re-founding of a Labour Party Mark II , the SPGB simply asks "why bother?". The history of the original Labour Party has been one long disaster for the working class and we can expect little better from any proposed new model .

Unity is only possible among those who possess common principles. A lack of unity of ideas and purpose always ends in eventual failure and defeat even for the non-socialist and non-revolutionary political parties. The job of socialists is to bring the class struggle to an end, not to try and accommodate themselves with the capitalist system. Socialism is not milk-and-sops reform, it is not a vague concern for ethics compatible with every opposition campaign or grouping within capitalist society.There is room for differences of opinion amongst socialists but these have to be subservient to the central socialist aim, to the old teaching of socialism , pure and simple. Another point is that collaboration with other groups and concessions made to accommodate such "like minded groups" may possibily increase the SPGB membership, but could very quickly bring about its demise. The open and democratic nature of the SPGB makes it vulnerable if it accepts association with groups which for religious or political outlook differences do not wish to commit to full socialism. Alliances for reasons of reforming the electoral system for instance, or supporting reformist groups, take us away from the real purpose of our existence.

Reformists often say to revolutionaries “Don't split the Left. We are all working for the same goal, so why don't you join us? We can get strength through unity.” Another line of thinking that presents itself as friendly to revolution but is really calculated to frustrate it is “the time is not yet ripe” argument . Revolutionaries must reject this appeal if they are to remain revolutionaries. Reformism is never a contribution to the achievement of socialism – it is a diversion of energies working for that goal.

Reformists who have some sympathy with the idea of socialism commonly seek to do a deal with revolutionaries. "It is important to get unity of the left. Join us today to achieve [ whatever is the flavour of the moment ] and tomorrow we'll join the revolution " . For revolutionaries the deal offered by some reformers to get unity of the Left is always a poisoned chalice. Reforms are to be pursued today, tomorrow the revolution - but tomorrow never ever comes.

"The struggle for reforms can tip over into revolution. Battles for reforms are vital preparation for social revolution" is sometimes also argued by so-called revolutionaries . But no convincing evidence is ever offered for such a position. The task of true revolutionaries is not to jump on the bandwagon of reforms but to expose their inadequacies, to show that reforms cannot solve working-class problems. Some left-wing groups who are now participating elements in TUSC deliberately and dishonestly advocate demands for short-term aims that they know cannot be met under capitalism, as a way of fuelling working-class discontent. In other words, they deliberately lie to workers as a way of getting them into their party!
We want no part of such an alliance. The Left, despite referring to themselves as “socialists” have no confidence in socialism, no confidence in the workers to win through. They tell us, your socialism will come eventually someday – presumably, when we are all dead and gone.The Left groups may as well know that we will continue to put the case for socialism, against them and the other parties which all support capitalism in one form or another, at election times whenever we can. We shan't be forming any electoral pacts with them since their objective of reforms now and state capitalism later has nothing in common with ours of a world community . Our analysis is not based upon some narrow sectarianism—it's based upon principle. We do not, nor have we ever, supported capitalist parties, especially those that dress up in revolutionary garb in order to hoodwink the workers. We do not doubt that well-meaning individuals get caught up in such chicanery for no other reason than a desire to see a better world. However, sentiment can never be a substitute for the class struggle.

There's nothing wrong with contesting elections, but if socialists are going to do this it should be done on a sound basis: getting elected on a straight socialist programme of common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit. But what is being proposed is quite different: getting elected with non-socialist votes on a programme of attractive-sounding reforms to capitalism. It is not as if the workers' movement hasn't been here before. This was what the Labour Party in Britain set out to do. In Europe , it was the policy of parties which, on the face of it, were far more radical than Labour in that they claimed to be Marxist and based on the class struggle. In practice, however, they were just as reformist as the Labour Party, and failed just as miserably. The danger is that the same mistake is going to be made again.The failure in the course of the 20th century of every single Labour or Social Democratic government, in all of the countries of Europe, to make any progress towards socialism has demonstrated the soundness of the position taken up by the SPGB at the turn of that century: that it is impossible to reform capitalism so as to make it work in the interest of working people. And that, therefore, it is futile and time-wasting and a diversion to try.

What those who want a better society should be doing is to campaign to change people's minds.It is all very well claiming to be anti-capitalist but if this is to mean something more than merely protesting against the effects of capitalism, it has got to also mean having an idea of an alternative to capitalism. Ours is a world without frontiers in which the natural and industrial resources of the Earth become the common heritage of all humanity and are used to provide enough for everybody in an ecologically-acceptable way.It is our ideas, our practices, and our values, that makes us the Socialist Party, not simply the word "Socialist" in our party name. It wouldn't matter what we call ourselves, as our ideas grow a word would be found to express them, in their full meaning. Since we think that, historically, that word already exists, we choose to call ourselves socialists. At a later stage, when more and more people are coming to want socialism, a mass socialist movement will emerge to dwarf all the small groups and grouplets that exist today. If this situation were to arise then unity and fusion would be the order of the day. In the meantime, the best thing we in the SPGB can do , is to carry on campaigning for a world community based on the common ownership and democratic control of the Earth's natural and industrial resources in the interests of all humanity. We in the SPGB will continue to propose that this be established by democratic, majority political action .Other groups will no doubt continue to propose their own way to get there. ( In the Vauxhall constituency we have the Trotskyists of Worker Power calling for the "immediate" this and the "immediate that" and the right of the Iranian regime to develop its own nuclear weapons.) In the end , we'll see which proposal the majority working class takes up. When the socialist idea catches on we'll then have our united movement .The writer , Ken McLeod , in his book The Stone Canal, has a fictional SPGB-er answering the charge of sectarianism from a Trotskyist with the exclamation: "how can a member of a split from a split from a split from a split from a split from the Fourth International call us sectarian?" .

If you want to vote for socialism, and there is no Socialist Party candidate standing, do this by writing "WORLD SOCIALISM" across your ballot paper.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hard Times in London

Danny Dorling, a professor of human geography at Sheffield University, and an expert on health and social inequalities has charted the widening gap in social inequality under New Labour . "..It's quite hard to tell the difference between New Labour and Thatcher..." he says . "In countries like Britain, people last lived lives as unequal as today, as measured by wage inequality, in 1854, when Charles Dickens was writing Hard Times," he states.

He identifies five sets of beliefs – elitism, exclusion, prejudice, greed and despair – and have become so entrenched in Britain and some other affluent countries that they uphold an unjust system that perpetuates extreme inequality.He says: "The beliefs are supported by the media where stories often imply that some people are less deserving, where great City businessmen (and a few businesswomen) are lauded as superheroes, and where immigrants looking to work for a crumb of the City's bonuses are seen as scroungers."

Dorling says: "I feel very wimpy saying this, but I'm hardly saying, 'We want a revolution, we want a utopia.' I'm just saying, 'Can we be slightly less stupid, and we'll all be better off for it.'"

Well , SOYMB does say we need a revolution and if it doesn't come about then this class inequality will go on ...and on ...and on .

London is most unequal city in the developed world, with the richest tenth of the population amassing 273 times the wealth owned by the bottom tenth . Dorling says the government's latest figures show that in the capital the top 10% of society had on average a wealth of £933,563 compared to the meagre £3,420 of the poorest 10% – a wealth multiple of 273.This wealth gap has produced an alarming health gap – with the life expectancy at birth of the richest group rising by a year annually, while the poorest are seeing almost no rise at all. In 2008, a female born in London's exclusive Kensington and Chelsea could expect to live until 88 and nine months – a year earlier she would have reached 87.9.

Dorling said: “The wealth gap has created a social divide so big it now resembles an Indian caste system where people in London only mix with those from their own income brackets and have little to do with those outside.”He spoke of a servant culture between poor and rich: “They serve in coffee shops, clean houses, make beds in hotels, care for their children and drive their cars and taxis.” He concluded: “We are getting wealth inequalities in London now that have not been seen since the days of a slave-owning elite.”

Management To-day reported that according to new research by the London School of Economics, Britain’s highest-paid workers accounted for 30% of the UK’s total pay expenditure at the end of 2008 - the City fat cats taking home almost a third of UK's wage bill .

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


If Obama deserved his Nobel Peace Prize,

then the King of Saudi Arabia is a humantarian,

and North Korea is a socialist homeland oveflowing with joy!

Socialists usually do not pay much attention to prizes given out in the name of the merchant of death, but have argued that Marie Curie, who working together with her husband first isolated radium on this day in 1902, was deserving of her two Nobels...

It was a bleak morning in November, 1891, when a slight Polish girl clambered down the steps or the German coach at the Gare du Nord. In her hands was clutched her luggage, a folding chair (for the fourth class carriages on the German railways had no seats), a heavy quilt, some books, and food.

She had travelled three days from Warsaw to join her sister, who, while qualifying as a doctor, had married a member of her faculty, also a Pole.

Their mother had died when they were small, leaving the father to raise a family of four girls and a boy.

Both father and mother were teachers. The father, a teacher of physics and mathematics out of favour with the Tsarist inspectors, found his family a problem.

Poland was under the Tsar, no higher education, or professional status, was open to women. After several disappointing years in various posts as 'governess' to wealthy families, the girl, Marya, sumame Sklodowsky, counted up every farthing of her pitiful savings for the great adventure.

She had left the Girls' High School in Warsaw with the highest marks obtainable, and a remarkable knowledge of four foreign languages.

Now, at last, after years of scraping, she was in Pans, bringing her blankets, a mattress, towels and sheets, which her practical sister, Bronya, had said would save precious francs. Her goal, the legendary Sorbonne, now, as then, the largest University in the world.

France, despite the setbacks of 1848 and the Commune, was still the most democratic country in Europe. Fees at the University were not high and no discrimination was made against applicants of foreign birth, off-white colour, ar lowly origin; which a certain Creole, by name Paul Lafargue, had appreciated some years previously.

Marya immediately plunged into a life of fanatical study, her star, the Master's degree in Physical Science. Lodging with her married sister, at first, she subsequently rented a tiny sixth-floor attic in the Latin Quarter to save time and bus fares. Food and warmth were secondary - so limited were her means (partly a small sum contributed by her ageing father), that she regularly frequented the public library till closing time to save a penny on lamp oil.

lf her brother-in-law had not found her and not been a doctor of medicine, radium might be unknown to this day, for she was unconscious in her garret from starvation, cold and fatigue.

A few beefsteaks in the country soon fixed that, with the result that for the first time a girl was top in the master's degree examinations in Physics in 1893.

This triumph was repeated in 1894 when she was first in Physics - and second in Maths. Her outstanding success secured her modest employment in research, as assistant and later as full-fledged research scientist to the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry. More than this, upon return to Poland to see her father - even the officials in Warsaw had at least sense enough ta realise that here, they were onto something, and granted her a bursary far a further year's study at the Sorbonne. Back she went, with nothing less that the Doctor's degree as her aim.

For this, an original discovery is required. Characteristically, Marya selected as the subject of her doctor's theses, just about the most difficult job there was. She decided to investigate the source of Henri Becaueret's mysterious rays. The French physicist had been working on the strange emanations from uranium salts which he had discovered.

For her research into the magnetism of steel she required same rather heavy equipment. A Polish Professor of Physics, visiting Paris, Joseph Kovalski, offered to speak to the chief of the laboratory of the School of Physics and Chemistry, on her behalf. The name of this unique young scientist was Pierre Curie. He was a Bachelor of Science at 16, a Master of Physics at 18. His father practised medicine for a livelihood though his bent was research.

A staunch '48er, Papa was a freethinking radical of the old brigade. To make quite certain that his brilliant son had a real education, he took care to see that he did not ga ta any school. He taught the boy himself and afterwards secured him a gifted tutor.

The result of the introduction of Marya to Pierre Curie was marriage.

Shortly before his marriage Pierre published the results of his research into crystalline physics, which won him a brilliant Doctor's degree. During this time the sole income of the pair was his salary of 500 franes per month.

Until Marya passed first in the examinations and for a Fellowship in secondary education. it was impossible for her to teach in France. Meantime, in September, 1897, Marya gave birth to her first daughter Irene, destined ta becorne a famous physicist, and marry her mother's most able pupil, Frederic Joliot.

Marya decided to study the ionisation power of uranium - that is, to test it on an electroscope, an instrument showing a charge by raising a piece of gold-leaf. In a few weeks she was on to the idea that the radiations of uranium were an atomic property of the material itself.

The problem of whether any other substances possessed these powers next arose.

Her job now was to test every known chemical body. Soon another material, the element thorium, was found to emit radiation. Madame Curie suggested that this peculiar property be called 'radio-activity'. Continuing along the path she had set, the young scientist proceeded to examine every specimen of mineral known to contain uranium, or thorium. for activity. To her astonishment, certan substances quite deficient in either of these elements proved more radio-active than either of them.

To this there could only be ane answer. She had examined all the known elements, therefore the powerful radio-activity must come from an unknown - a new element. An element is a substance consisting entirely of atoms of the same atomic number.

There now began one of the most astounding quests in all the remarkable history of scientific discovery. The proportion of the active stuff was minute - it was like looking for a needle in a haystack as big as a mountain - one gramme to one ton, or about one in one million.

The strongest rays of all had been given by the mineral pitch-blend, a greyish by-product of the glass making industry of Bchemia. The first ton was obtained, and the job that was to take four years began. The material had to be heated, evaporated and allowed ta crystallise, like sugar, and the crystals tested. Twelve months after commeneing her research the following communication was published in the Proceedings of the Academy of Science .

"The various reasons we have just enumerated lead us to believe that the new radio-active substance contains a new element to which we propose to give the name of
Radium...The radio-activity of Radium must be enormous."

As is usual, this announcement met with sceptical indifference. Polonium and radium had to be 'shown' to the scientists before they would believe it.

To find a place to do the job was the first problem. They were loaned the use of a shed at the Institute of Physics.

To get the stuff was the second. By a lucky break, the Austrian Government decided to present a ton of pitchblend free, as a sample, though carriage had to be paid. To live while working was the third. Pierre had to go on teaching. Not only this, but at a critical stage in her research work, Marie had to turn out too.

She accepted a post as lecturer in physics at the Higher Normal School for Girls at Sevres, near Versailles, a Teachers' Training College.

This meant hours of setting lessons, preparing experiments, and correcting 'homework', while the greatest discovery of all time was postponed. During all this time the Curie's most urgent needs, a decent laboratory in which to work, was denied them. Despite all the efforts of his friends neither the University nor the Academy of Science would make him any appointment carrying adequate laboratory facilities. At last, Paul Appell (head of the physics faculty) made a further attempt by means of a manoeuvre, namely, by nominating Pierre for award of the Legion of Honour.

Here is Pierre's reply:-

"Please be so kind as to thank the Minister and to inform him that I do not feel the slightest need of being decorated, but that I am in the greatest need of a laboratory."

Sorne three years later Pierre and Marie were invited to, the Royal Scientific Institution in London to receive the Davy Gold Medal. Upon their return to Paris Pierre gave it to the children to play with.

Marie, at one of the brilliant functions organised after the discovery of Radium, was asked by the wife of the President of the Republic of France, "Would you like to meet his Excellency tbe King of Greece?"

"I don't see the utility!" was her reply.

It was inevitable that under the severe strains of earning a living by teaching science, bringing up two daughters, and devoting every available minute left to the completion of the task of isolating a grain of radium, the health of both Pierre and Marie would break down. By 1903 Pierre was suffering violent attacks of frightful pain periodically. In the same year Marie endured a miscarriage due, as she herself admitted, to 'general fatigue'.

In her work to obtain salts of pure radium Marie was in the words of ber daughter-biographer Eve, 'a factory all by herself'.

Eve Curie's book 'Marie Curie', is a MUST for every Socialist.

"We had no money, no laboratory, and no help," she wrote. And yet it was in this miserable old shed that the best and happiest years of our life were spent...I sometimes passed the whole day stirring a boiling mass with an iron rod nearly as big as myself, In the evening I was broken with fatigue."

Forty-five months after the day in which they had forecast the probable existence of Radium, Marie announced its atomic weight, 225. Nineteenth Century Science was knocked out. A new chapter in its chequered history had begun

ONCE the actual existence of Radium was proved a series of astounding developments followed. Taken up rapidly by the research workers of the world, its endless applications were, at first, bur dimly appreciated.

Medical men tried it in the treatment of cancer, and scored successes. Pierre exposed his arm to it and received it painful burn. In 1903, Rutherford and Soddy, working on Marie's hypothesis, published their 'Theory of Radioactive Transforrnation', the theory that elements thought unchangeable are in spontaneous evolution. Radium gave out heat, affected other substances, pierced solid objects, and was luminous. Radium became 'big business'. A factory was started in France. Enquiries came from all over the world. At last the inevitable one arrived from America by a concern in Buffalo, requesting information on the production of Radium, and suggesting contracts for payment of license fees. For this it would have been necessary for the Curies to stake their claim: to patent their 'invention' and maintain secrecy in its processes. In reply to her husband's request as to whether they should declare themselves the 'proprietors' of Radium Marie replied (as Faraday and Pasteur had done before her): .

"It is impossible. It would be contrary to the scientific spirit."

The information required was given FREE to EVERYBODY.

November, 1903, marked the first real turning point in the Curie's fortune. The Swedish Academy of Science decided to award them half the Nobel Prize in Physics. This amounted to about 70,000 francs, "for us, a huge sum."

After this, the University of Paris had to create a chair in physics for Pierre Curie.

More than this, he was officially allowed three paid assistants, and the chief of lab. nominated Madame Curie. The first woman to be thus accorded official recognition - the first woman to be admitted to tbe Royal lnstitution in London - and the first woman scientist of world rank, winner of the Nobel Prize. Pierre and Marie applied themselves to the new life. Both continued teacbing as before.

Life was a little easier now. But, as is s often tbe case, Fate waited in tbe background to drown content in the cup of sorrow.

On April 19th, 1906, Pierre Curie was leaving his publishers on the way to the Institute of Science, when be was run down by a heavy dray, the rear wheel passed over bis head; one of the greatest brains in the world ceased to think. Tbe 20 foot wagon was loaded with military uniforms.

The Government proposed to award Madame Curie and her children a State pension, which she indignantly refused.

Tbe University naturally desired to retain Marie in its faculty. But how! It was finally decided that there was only only one physicist capable of replacing Pierre Curie - Marie - his widow. This was the first time tbat a post in higher education was given to a woman.

When the time came for her to start her course the hushed and tense audience heard her opening sentence with amazement. She started at the exact point where her late husband had concluded a year befare. Finally, an agreement was made between Dr. Row, of the Pasteur Institute and the University of Paris for the foundation of the institute of Radium, under the direction of Marie Curie.

By this time, the honours, medals and prizes, showered upon her by the world's scientific bodies ran into hundreds; filling several printed pages. She was the only woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize twice. And so she went steadily on, instructing her pupils, continuing to direct research until the first world war, when she organised an X-ray Unit, which utilised the electrical knowledge she had discovered.

Finally, she died in 1934, but not until she had made several triumphal tours to the United States, her native Warsaw, and the Far East.

Eleanor Doorly in her Puffin Books little sketch 'The Radium Woman' tells the story of the attempts by Mrs Melmay to persuade the wealthy American women to give ten thousand dollars eacb to buy the discoverer of radium one gramme of it to perrmit her to continue her researches. Only three could be found. A subscription fund among the women of America raised the amount in less than a year. This gramme of radium was presented to her at the White House by the President of the United States.

What is it that makes these two - Marie, and her husband Pierre, such lovable and attractive characters. Not their scientific prowess, not their almost superhuman concentration on the job to be done. No! Above all tbeir self-effacing modesty, and refusal to assume superiority, Pierre's firm refusal to accept decorations, their avoidance of publicity, and renunciation of personal wealth. Not once, but several times, they turned down fortunes. They just wanted to work at the job they had chosen.

As 'Marie wrote later:-

"Pierre Curie was little inclined to take an active part in politics.

"By education and feeling he was attached to democratic and socialist ideas, but he was dominated by no party doctrine."

Pierre himself wrote at the beginning of their acquaintance

"It would be a fine thing to pass our lives near to each other, hypnotised by our dreams, your patriotic dream, our humanitarian dream, and our scientific dream.

Of all those dreams the last is, I believe, the only legitimate one.

I mean by that, that we are powerless to change the social order, and, even if we were not, we should not know what to do in taking action, no matter in what direction, we should never be sure of not doing more harm than good by retarding some inevitable evolutions. From the scientific point of view, on the contrary, we may hope to do something, the ground is solider here and any discovery we may make, however small, will remain acquired knowledge."

When the newspaper correspondents of two continents were rapping on their front door, they would slide off through the back on their bicycles. To-day it is fashionable to blame scientists for the existence of the Hydrogen bomb, and if we are consistent, nobody should be blamed more than Marie Curie, whose discovery of natural radium made the manufacture of artificial isotopes (radio-active substances) possible.

Nothing could be more absurd. Pierre abhorred violence in every form. Both worked for humanity, If she is to be blamed for Atomic bombs, let her be praised for nuclear reactors. Film companies and magazine owners have made fortunes from their story. An aura of 'romantic' legend has been fabricated around it.

Marie herself debunked it in the clearest terms.

"lt is true that the discovery of radium was made in precarious conditions; the shed which sheltered it seems clouded in the charms of legend. But this romantic element was not an advantage; it wore out our strength and delayed our accomplishment. With better means, the first five years of our work might have been reduced to two, and their tension lessened."

They paid tbe price for their discovery in ruined health.

Until radium became a saleable commodity nobody wanted to know, they could kill themselves, just two more screwy cranks. When there was money in it, how the letters poured in! Kings and Presidents rushed to shake their hands, award tbem medals, and toast their honour.

And yet when Marie was invited back to Wawsaw 24 years later at the opening of the Warsaw Institute of Radium, she spotted at a banquet in her honour a tiny white-haired old lady, Mde. Sikorska, her teacher at the boarding school she attended when a tot. Straightway the sincere unaftected Marie made her way down the tables to take her first teacher by tbe hands, and kiss her cbeeks.

Tbe atomic weight of Radium was announced in 1904. This year saw the birth of the Socialist Party in Great Britain. It was in that year, after nearly three years of exbausting drudgery, that Marie asked Pierre, after the children were put to bed, to go with her down to the damp and dingy old shed which housed their works.

Opening the door and peering tbrough the darkness they saw the queer phosphorescent gleam of a grain of pure radium, the supposedly indestructible molecules of matter were actually seething systems of whirling electrons in exploding atoms.

Until the birth of the Socialist idea, and its realisation into a Party, the Capitalist system seemed indestructible too.

Socialism, in the realm of ideas, like radium in the physical world, gleamed with an inextinguishable glow, and aftected those it contacted with a political "radioactivity."

To Socialists the work of Marie Curie will always epitomise the struggle of the people for knowledge and freedom.

Like those other martyrs of the battle, the heroic Communards of her beloved Paris, she will be forever "enshrined in the great heart of the working class."

In actual numbers, or sheer physical size, the early S.P.G.B. roughly corresponded with the proportion of radium in pitch-blende, one to the million.


(The Socialist Standard February & June, 1956)




Sunday, April 18, 2010

Russia's Capitalists

Another article from the archives of the Socialist Standard explaining the non-socialist nature of the old Soviet Union .

The Nomenklatura

What is the nature of the ruling class in Russia? Who are they and what is the basis of their power and wealth? Obviously, the answers to these questions cannot be found by simply comparing the Russian rulers with the capitalist class in the west. For example, no one in Russia has legal title to any of the factories, mines, mills, transport and communications systems, and to underline this there is an absence of shareholding and stock exchanges. Nevertheless, there is a social class there whose members live privileged lives in comparison with the vast majority of Russian people. Indeed, the higher ranks of this class enjoy luxurious lifestyles and have an army of servants to look after their every comfort.

How can all this be in a supposedly "socialist" society and how does this privileged class get its wealth if not from legal ownership? These questions, and many more, are dealt with by a dissident Russian scholar, Michael Voslensky, in his book Nomenklatura - Anatomy of the Soviet Ruling Class. This book was first published in German but the English edition has been brought right up to date to include the periods in office of both Andropov and Chernenko.

Nomenklatura is a Latin word meaning an index of names. A more meaningful definition is contained in Structures of the Party, a manual of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union:
"The Nomenklatura is a list of the highest positions; the candidates for these positions are examined by the various party committees, recommended and confirmed. These Nomenklatura party committee members can be relieved of their positions only by authorisation of their committees. Persons elevated to the Nomenklatura are those in key positions. "(p 2).

Anyone admitted to this magic circle is issued with a document confirming his or her exalted status and membership is virtually guaranteed for life.
Voslensky, who now lives in the west, was himself an important figure in Russia and writes with insight about his subject. He identifies the Nomenklatura as the secretaries and heads of departments and divisions of the Communist Party, Komsomol (communist youth) and trade unions; the central committees of those organisations at both national level and in the various republics; the heads of state administration and their deputies at national and republic levels plus a host of representatives of the state security services, the armed forces, the KGB, the diplomatic services, education, science, industry and agriculture. According to Voslensky the Nomenklatura totals about 750,000 and together with their families at around 3 million, or 1½ per cent of the population. So it is only those who have reached a certain rung on the Communist Party ladder who can become members, and even the international fame and personal wealth of such as writers, artists and fiIm stars do not gain them admission.

Even if we could not put our finger on the exact point in the Communist set-up where someone becomes a member of the Nomenklatura, this need not concern us any more than what is the exact amount of capital someone in Britain must have invested before becoming a member of the capitalist class - is it £100,000 or £1 million? The undeniable fact is that despite any grey areas there is a capitalist class in this country which, because of its legal ownership, monopolises the means of production and distribution. Similarly there is a class in Russia, the Nomenklatura, which, because of its monopoly of political power, does exactly the same there.

Voslensky argues that the Nomenklatura are in fact the collective owning class in Russia. He points out that ownership does not have to be by individuals with legal title and cites the nationalised industries in the west where the state undertakes their management on behalf of the national capitalist class. If those industries show a profit then the capitalists will get their "dividend” in the form of tax cuts or of not having to pay tax increases to finance them. At the very least they will get industries which, even if not profitable, they can use to service the enterprises they themselves own. The capitalists in this case own not as individuals but collectively, as a class. And collective ownership exists not only in nationalised industries. The Roman Catholic Church owns vast wealth in property, investments, art treasures, etc, but no individuals, not even the Pope, have legal title to any of it. This wealth is owned collectively by the church hierarchy who use it to protect and extend their power and influence and, incidentally, to live very well but none of them could, for instance, sell St. Peter's. Any such decision would have to be taken collectively because that is the basis of their ownership.

It is the same with the Nomenklatura. They own as a class and the state manages the production of wealth on their behalf. Their pay-out comes in the form of inflated salaries, the free use of luxury apartments, Black Sea villas, country houses (dachas), more or less free food, free use of cars and many other perks. Also, many of them are allotted more than one official post and receive a separate salary for each. This may not compare with the huge incomes of some western capitalists but, what the Nomenklatura get is a fortune to the average Russian.

Of course the top ranking members of this class do have incomes on the scale of western capitalists. How else can we view the disclosure that a district committee first secretary paid 192,000 roubles (about 160 years' pay for the average Russian worker) into his wife's bank account? Moreover, they have an open account at the state bank which allows them to draw out any money they require. Even western capitalists cannot do that. Those at the very top have no need to touch their salaries as everyone at this level simply lives at the state's expense. Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, recalled how her father never touched his wages: "The drawers of his desk . . . were full of these sealed envelopes” (p 231). And yet the Nomenklatura, denies its own existence as a class of exploiters and try to pass themselves off as workers

This personal wealth is only a fraction of the surplus value which the Nomenklatura robs from the Russian workers. The entire state apparatus which keeps them in power is financed from this source. The armed forces the arms industry and the spy and espionage systems which are used to protect their interests from the threat of their international rivals, the massive police force, prisons, labour camps, courts, militia, phony trade unions, all of which are employed in keeping the workers in line, are paid from the proceeds of this robbery.

One significant similarity the Nomenklatura has with the capitalist class in the west is that it endeavours to hand on its privileges to its children. Although it is true that membership is not hereditary in any legal sense, in a practical sense it may as well be. Voslensky gives several examples of how the children of the Nomenklatura are as good as guaranteed important, well paid positions irrespective of their personal abilities and concludes that although entry to the Nomenklatura can be obtained by ordinary careerists, “. . . the chance of entering it by that route are becoming more and more restricted while the royal road of birth is more and more frequently used" (P 102). The most important difference between the Russian rulers and the western capitalists is explained by Voslensky.

"What matters to the Nomenklatura is not property but power. The bourgeoisie is a class of power owners and is the ruling class as a consequence of that. With the Nomenklatura it is the other way around; it is the ruling class and that makes it the property owning class. Capitalists magnates share their wealth with no one, but gladly share power with professional politicians. Nomenklaturists take care not to share the slightest degree of power with anyone. The head of a department in the Central committee apparatus never objects to an academician's or a writer's having more money or worldly goods than he, but he will never allow either to disobey his orders". (p 72)

So, in the west it is money which is paramount. In Russia what counts is power of which privilege is the proof. This explains why the Nomenklatura apparently have no wish to actually own a dacha. What is more prized is having a state-owned dacha made available to them. That is a sign that they have really arrived, and to actually own a dacha is considered to be bad form. On occasion Voslensky reveals a sound grasp of the theories of Karl Marx. For example, he approvingly quotes an old Bolshevik ruefully explaining to him, as a schoolboy, why Russia was not ripe for the socialist revolution.

"You and your friends, Misha, would like to be airmen or arctic explorers, but with the best will in the world it is impossible because you are still children, and you can no more skip your age than I, unfortunately, can become a schoolboy again. It is not we who determine the various stages of our life, it is those various stages that determine us. And that is true not only of individual human beings, it also applies to human beings in general, to human society. Could Russia, or any other country at the same stage of social development, by a mere act of will take a single leap that would put it ahead of the most advanced countries? Marx said it could not and it was obvious" (p 15).

He denounces Leninism as not Marxist at all but merely ". . .a strategy and tactics for the seizure of power decked out in Marxist slogans" (p 289) and goes on to pour scorn on the idea that the Nomenklatura are Marxists "Marx would have turned away in disgust from the system they have established" (p 290).

Voslensky's own conception of socialist communist would seem to be the same as our own, for he says
"I believe the idea of a classless communist society as a free association of producers of material and intellectual goods to be a fine one" (p 347).

Against this he shows some weakness on Marx's theory of surplus value, confusing surplus labour - which is present in any society – with surplus value, which is produced under the specific conditions of capitalism's commodity production. He also shows a certain naivety in stating that government ministers in the west "live on their pay, just like other people", and that their wives do the cooking and housework themselves "(p 178)!

We can easily forgive Voslensky's slips. By throwing more light on Russia's rulers and by highlighting the class divided nature of Russian society together with its repressive state, his valuable book is surely one more nail in the coffin of the idea that socialism or communism exists in that tortured land.

Vic Vanni
Socialist Standard November 1985

Saturday, April 17, 2010

getting high

from here

A United Nations demographic study predicts that by the year 2050 three billion more people will have added to our current population of six billion. 80% of available arable land is already in use; the remaining 20% will clearly be insufficient to feed an additional three billion mouths. Consequences of changing weather patterns, such as rising sea levels and accelerated desertification, will only take away more potential farmland.In addition there is the currently increasing trend of people moving into the cities. An issue with urban areas is that virtually all food has to be grown elsewhere and transported in. Adding three billion more city residents will overstrain the dependence on arable land that has already been statistically proven to be inadequate and waning in sustainability. Consequently, shifting the center of food production to where most people will be living is more efficient. Building upwards rather than outwards minimizes the usage of scarce urban space.

In order to provide water for the crops, a vertical farm will be able to recycle municipal wastewater by filtration and collect rainwater. Dehumidifying the inside air recollects water from plant-produced moisture which can distribute as much as 60 million gallons of bottled water each year. With respect to energy consumption, solar panels and wind spires power the heating and lighting for each floor. Additional energy needs can be met with a 50% efficient process called plasma-gasification, which combusts any waste food product, such as the leaves and stalks from corn. Lastly, nitrogen and other fertile nutrients can be derived from animal waste or the city sewage water.The immediate benefit of growing food indoors is an environment that can be controlled all day and year-round. Temperature, humidity, and lighting can all be customized for specific crops, yielding optimal growth. Year-round harvests will certainly help curb global hunger.Construct about 150 of these vertical farms and everybody in New York City will have fresh produce to eat.For instance, twenty-one stories can be as efficient as 588 acres with respect to lettuce production.

Vertical farming makes the city its own provider of fresh produce. Food no longer needs to be shipped in, saving fossil fuel emissions and transportation costs. Also, schools, restaurants, and hospitals in cities will readily have access to fresh fruits and vegetables

The solutions exist but it will require socialism to implement them