Saturday, April 30, 2011

The World's Future

Doomsayers have been warning about the dangers of unchecked population growth for centuries. The 18th-century Anglican clergyman and scholar Thomas Malthus believed the world's population would continue to expand rapidly until it was brought under control by famine and disease. He made this prediction when there were about 800 million people on Earth. By 1930, there were 2 billion. In the late 1960s, American biologist Paul Ehrlich envisaged a faster demise. In The Population Bomb, he said devastating famines would mean hundreds of millions would die of starvation in the 1970s and '80s. But Malthus and Ehrlich got it wrong.

Although people are living longer, the world's population is growing more slowly than it was in the 1960s and '70s. Population growth has been slowed not by famine or disease, but by women having fewer children. Today, globally, mothers have an average of two children; in 1965 they had close to four. This drop is due to many things, but the improved status of women has had the greatest influence.

''The best population policy that any poor country can have is to bring the population out of poverty.'' explained Graeme Hugo, a geography professor at Adelaide University and one of Australia's most respected demographers.

As most babies will become working adults - every extra human being born brought with him not only an extra mouth but also an extra pair of hands - their contribution to the labour market can boost productivity - a phenomenon known as the demographic dividend. (And also with a longer life expectancy those extra hands can be also be put to use for much longer time.)

Graeme Hugo warns that population reduction is not a silver bullet: ''You need good environmental policy as well as good population policy.''

SOYMB, however, says what is required is a social revolution and the establishment of a society that can provide a rational approach to population and resources. Hunger has been blamed on overpopulation, while the waste of the world's resources is attributed to people being greedy. SOYMB reject these explanations. In our view, the reason millions die of hunger, the reason the world's resources are plundered, is that we are living under an economic system that is geared to making profits rather than to satisfying people's needs. These problems are caused by the existence and the operation of the profit system. They are an inevitable consequence of that system and cannot be eradicated as long as it remains in being.

Marx showed that there is no such thing as a general law of population that applied to all societies and to all times. At times under capitalism there seemed to be overpopulation and at others underpopulation. But this had nothing to do with the birth rate. It was not just a question of the number of people, productivity had to taken into account. Beginning with the industrial revolution, technological development increased social productivity so that more food was provided for the increasing population. However, food is not produced directly to meet human needs but rather for profit. Capitalism is a system of artificial scarcity, so creating poverty amidst potential abundance and the illusion that there are too many people and not enough to go around.

There’s no question that population growth under capitalism is going to pass the carrying capacity of the planet at some point. Socialists can only hope that the world doesn't have to starve half its population to death before coming to the conclusion that capitalism is the real problem that requires addressing. Socialism with production solely for use instead of for sale on the market, will release the labour and resources at present wasted by capitalism to be used, as necessary, for producing food.

But to conclude in the words of Engels:
"There is, of course, the abstract possibility that the number of people will become so great that limits will have to be set to their increase. But if at some stage communist society finds itself obliged to regulate the production of human beings, just as it has already come to regulate the production of things, it will be precisely this society, and this society alone, which can carry this out without difficulty. It does not seem to me that it would be at all difficult in such a society to achieve by planning a result which has already been produced spontaneously, without planning, in France and Lower Austria. At any rate, it is for the people in the communist society themselves to decide whether, when, and how this is to be done, and what means they wish to employ for the purpose. I do not feel called upon to make proposals or give them advice about it. These people, in any case, will surely not be any less intelligent than we are."

Friday, April 29, 2011

While the media craws about the global focus on a royal wedding, SOYMB reads :-

According to a report by the International Textile Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) Marks and Spencer's, Next, Ralph Lauren, DKNY, GAP, Converse, Banana Republic, Land's End, Levi's, more than a decade after sweatshop labour for high street brands became a mainstream issue, factories in Asia contracted to make their products are still responsible for shocking working practices. Many of the factories supplying the brands likely to dominate the Olympics in 2012, such as Adidas, Nike, Slazenger, Speedo and Puma, "are routinely breaking every rule in the book when it comes to labour rights", according to the ITGLWF.

Factories in three countries – the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka – were surveyed, and not one of them paid a living wage to their combined 100,000-strong workforce. Many of them didn't even pay the legal minimum wage. What's more, things seem to be getting worse, rather than better. Employment is becoming more precarious as more workers are put on to temporary contracts, day labour, on call rather than with permanent jobs. That enables employers to dodge holiday pay, sick pay and written contracts. Employers also imposed compulsory overtime, lower wages and higher production targets on workers on these short-term contracts. Such precarious employment makes it harder for trade unions to organise and recruit, because contracts are not renewed if the worker has been involved in trade union activity. On average, 25% of workers in Indonesia were short-term or temporary, while in the Philippines it rose to 85% in one factory, 50% at another.

In Sri Lanka, wages were paid on productivity targets – despite such a practice being illegal. At one factory in Girigara, basic pay was cut if targets set by the management were not achieved. At another factory owned by the same company in Katunayake, workers didn't receive any incentive pay unless the entire quota was reached, but workers reported that the targets were impossible to meet so they never got their bonuses, even if they missed toilet breaks and rest periods to try and reach the target. At other factories, workers were forced to work overtime to meet productivity targets.

The report found that excessive overtime was the "norm" in sportswear and leisurewear factories in Indonesia; workers in all the factories surveyed were doing between 10 and 40 hours of overtime a week. There were incidents of mental and physical abuse when workers failed to reach production targets – in one factory, 40 workers were locked in an unventilated room without access to toilet facilities, water and food for over three hours as a punishment.
In Sri Lanka, workers were forced to work up to 130 hours per month in overtime, and anyone asking to leave would be verbally harassed.
In the Philippines, 24% of workers said that they did not receive additional pay for their overtime. Typical hours can be 6am to 8pm.

Many of the workers at these factories in Sri Lanka are young women from rural areas. They are told when recruited that the factories prefer them not to marry, and some companies even carry out pregnancy tests to weed out pregnant women. Sexual intimidation and abuse was common.

The Royal Fairy Tales

Kings and queens exist because other people treat them as regal not because there is something intrinsic or magical about the royal person which makes them a monarch. It is the willingness of people to kneel before them and pay homage. In contemporary Britain, this willingness does not directly turn into political power, but a much more nebulous symbolic one. Through the imagery and supposed emotions directly fixed on the monarchy by "the people", British capitalism can present itself as being able to maintain a community of values. Something other than mere profit-seeking matters. Royalty underpins a whole system of social stratification and value.

With this royal wedding we are once more subjected to no end of absurd and expensive pageantry with the usual TV documentaries and magagzine features, all giving the line that our glorious monarchy is the centre of our “identity” and political stability. Such pageantry as we see today is no more than the creation of 19th century efforts to establish an imperial and domestic symbolic loyalty around a “regal” figurehead external to “politics”.

Does monarchy serve any interest for ordinary people, beyond giving a holiday and a pageant now and then? It may be said that if it does them no good, it does them no harm either. If it were true that to fill people’s heads with nonsense did no harm, that might be so; and most of it is nonsense. There is no reason for thinking that the Queen or Will and Kate are not pleasant, decent people. If things were otherwise, however, the truth is that they would still be presented as paragons. Some monarchs have been cruel, irresponsible and contemptible, but their subjects have still been asked for loyal reverence. It is not the monarch that is at fault in all this, but the social system which needs a shining symbol; where there is no monarch, something else has to be held up to dazzle the dispossessed. However, recently press voyeurism has undermined its previously cultivated image of a wholesome family example. The marriage infidelities of the heir to the throne and wife ( of the four categories of treason remaining from the Treason Act of 1351 there is still the offence of “violating” the wife of the monarchs eldest son, which may have caused some lost sleep among the men who consorted with Princess Diana while she was still married to the Prince of Wales.) Thus could the Yorks and Wessexes also seek to trade off the royal brand in their business dealings.

A monarch, in the popular mind, rules by divine sanction and in accordance with custom from the mists of time. The capitalists, on the other hand, have no ancient usage behind them, no special appointment from heaven. Unless they can disguise the fact of their dominance, they are clearly seen to rule by might alone – a perpetual challenge to might. A ruling class which has to confess that it rules because it possesses the means of life, already has one foot in the grave, for it holds shines a light on a class cleavage that all men may see. This is perhaps the real use of monarchs in capitalism. Behind the person of the Royal Personage, the capitalists can hide the fact that it is they in reality who rule. By parading the Royal Family before the workers at every possible opportunity, and with every circumstance of pomp and display that their ingenuity can invent, by investing them with divine right and something of divinity itself, the capitalists awaken and stimulate and nurture that spirit of reverence which is so deadly an enemy to the growth of revolutionary ideas, and so detract attention from themselves.

As it is to the interest of the capitalist class to represent that they, together with the working class, are subservient to a greater power, and to set the example of loyalty to their king, it becomes the imperative duty of socialists to strip the sham of all its disguising tinsel, and to expose the grim, sordid, unromantic, iron form of tyrant King Capital beneath it all. No royal power exists today . Everywhere the owners of the means of production have either bent the monarchy to their will or broken it. Power lies alone with the class of property-owners. They rule who own. The whole of this inglorious show, indeed, is subordinate to this object. It is not just only an effort to solidify and make more stable the monarchy, but to blind the workers to their true position, and make capitalist domination more secure.

“The royal wedding is a powerful and engaging fantasy,” says Diane Reay, professor of education at Cambridge university. It represents “the idea that anyone can become a princess – that, like Cinderella, we can all move up the social and economic ladder”.
Middleton’s parents met when working for British Airways – father Michael as a dispatcher and mother Carole as a flight attendant. Carole’s great-grandfather was a Durham miner, working in a pit owned by the Bowes-Lyons, the late Queen Mother’s family. His father worked in the pits, as did his father before him. In practice, of course, Kate Middleton is no Cinderella. Her father’s background is solidly middle-income (his father was a Royal Air Force pilot, from a family of Leeds solicitors and merchants). Party Pieces, the children’s entertainment business he and his wife founded, enriched the Middletons, enabling them to buy a rambling house in the affluent home county of Berkshire as well as a property in Chelsea, home to American bankers and the London base for faded gentry. Kate and her two siblings attended Marlborough, a top fee-paying school where Princess Eugenie of York, William’s cousin, was also a pupil. She went on to university at St Andrews in Scotland – best known for being the home of golf. The university’s reputation is stronger on social than academic selection; its principal boasted at Kate and William’s graduation ceremony that it was “the top matchmaking university in Britain”.
“Let’s face it,” says Prof Reay. “The prince would not be marrying a girl from a comprehensive state school.”

Socialists are unconcern as to whether we live in a republic or a constitutional monarchy – capitalism is capitalism whatever its political label. We must, however, point out the worst lies told about the history of our class. Constitutional monarchy has not always been a comfortable political framework for British capitalism and has always had its critics, including a minority of republicans. Socialists desire a good deal more than a mere capitalist republic. Unlike the Left of capitalism, we openly advocate common ownership and democratic control which, for the privileged royal parasites, would mean the end of their vast ownership of resources and their place as sources of political deference and patronage.

It is time we, the working class, rather than the royal nuptials of Will and Kate, celebrated something of far more importance - ourselves! It seems we have been convinced for so long that we should look up to our "betters" and to celebrate their shenanigans, brainwashed into thinking the same by the fawning media, that we have forgotten our own collective strength and our latent power to change the world.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Easter Rising, 1916


In the year Connolly was born in County Monaghan and, while still very young, was taken by his parents to live in Glasgow, where he grew up. In Scotland, as a young man, he joined the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party.

Returning to Ireland, Connolly founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party in 1896. He applied himself in an effort to bring about a wedding, so to speak, between Irish Nationalism and his "Socialism."

At the International Socialist Conference of 1900, he claimed separate voting rights for Ireland and a seating at the Conference distinct from the British delegates. Later, he went to America where he took active part in the Industrial Unionist Movement with Daniel De Leon.

In the meantime, in Ireland Arthur Griffith - the owner of a Nationalist journal, The United Irish man founded a movement called Sinn Fein. Griffith advocated Irish men and women buying only Irish manufactured goods. He claimed that this would create a demand which, in turn, would create a supply; this would grow into an Irish economy and then the Irish Nationalist members of Parliament would withdraw from the British Parliarnent and form their own National Parliament in Dublin.

At this time also there was a revival of interest in the Gaelic language and in Ireland's past history among the young "intellectuals" of Dublin. Prominent was the young school teacher Patrick Pearse. In 1915 the body of an old Fenian leader, O'Donavan Rossa, who had died in America, was brought to Ireland for burial.

The extreme Nationalists staged a huge funeral through the streets of Dublin and a long oration was given by Patrick Pearse in which he stated, that "Ireland unfree shall never be at peace."

Connolly returned to Ireland where he joined with James Larkin in the building of a militant Trade Union, the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. This Union catered chiefly for the unskilled worker. Conditions of employment and the wages of these workers were very bad.

The full significance of the class-struggle became very apparent and, in Dublin, the voices raised against the strikers made some very strange bed-fellows. The Dublin Castle authorities with their police and "Orange Order" magistrates were joined by the Nationalist employers and the Roman Catholic hierachy in condemning the "anarchy' of Larkin and Connolly.

Griffith, founder of Sinn Fein and one of Ireland's leading "liberators" (at a later day), demanded that the authorities make use of the military and "drive them back to work at the point of the bayonet."

Great hardship was suffered by the families of those on strike or locked out. An appeal for aid was made by Larkin to trade unionists in Britain. In response a food ship was chartered by the British Trade Union Council and stocked at cost price by the Co-operative Wholesale Society.

Workers in Britain offered homes to the hungry children of the Dublin workers, The first party of about three hundred children were on their way to a ship at the North Wall Docks, when they were turned back by a hymn-singing mob led by priests.These good Christians were not concerned about the hunger of these children, but about the state of their "souls" in the homes of the "godless" English workers.

After lasting for about six months the strike and lock-out wore themselves out to an inconclusive ending.

The Transport Union began a series of lightning strikes in an effort to force better conditions from the employers, who in turn began to organise resistance to the Union's tactics.

In 1913, the Chairman of the Federation of Employers, William Martin Murphy, owner of the Dublin tramways and the daily newspaper, the Irish Independent, launched an attack in his newspaper on same workers then on strike. The Union replied with a boycott on the Independent. Murphy began organising the employers against the Union. He led the way by dismissing union members from employment in the tramways, and had the workers of Jacob's biscuit factory locked out.

When union members tried to prevent strike breakers from working the police joined in the fray. Two workers were clubbed to death by them during a public meeting in Dublin.The more extreme wing of the Irish Nationalists openly sympathised with the workers in their struggle.

This created a loose alliance between this wing and Larkin and Connolly. As a result of the struggle the labour leaders decided that the workers should be organised as an army to protect themselves in future struggle. This gave rise to the formation of the Irish Citizen Army. To collect funds Larkin went to America, leaving Connolly in sole charge in Dublin.

The majority of the Irish people living outside Dublin were hardly aware of the labour troubles in the city. They were mainly concerned with the long awaited Home Rule Bill. This had been promised to the Irish Nationalist Party leader John Redmond by the British government for his support at Westminster.

The passing of the Bill had been delayed by the organised resistance to it by the leaders of the Orange Order in Ulster. These Unionists were led by a Dublin bom barrister named Edward Carson. A covenant pledging resistance to Home Rule was signed by over half a million people in the North of Ireland. Also, a volunteer force of eighty thousand men, called the Ulster Volunteers, was raised and armed. When Carson threatened a march from Belfast to Cork the British Government grew alarmed; they issued orders for the British army at Curragh Camp to prepare for military duty in Ulster. This started a mutiny in which fifty-seven high ranking army officers tendered their resignations rather than fight against their "brothers" in Ulster. (A rather significant difference in attitude to that which they showed towards the workers of Dublin when they were fighting for better conditions).

At this time John Redmond formed another volunteer force called the National Volunteers to Defend Home Rule. Then started a period of gun-running into Ireland as the rival factions began to prepare for civil war.

At this time the Citizen Army started arming and drilling. Before the strike could commence, a new and major event took place; World War I broke out.

The Home Rule Bill was postponed and Redmond called for volunteers for the British Army "to fight for the freedom of small nations". This caused a split in the ranks of the National Volunteers. A small section insisted that "England's difficulty was Ireland's opportunity", This section was led by a group called the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was a secret society dating from the days of the Fenian movement.

The majority of the Volunteers stayed loyal to Redmond but the other section formed a rival force known as the Irish Volunteers. Connolly, speaking for the Citizen Army, said "The war of nation against nation in the interests of royal freebooters and cosmopolitan thieves, stands as a thing accursed." He also declared, "We serve neither King nor Kaiser - but Ireland."

As the war in Europe dragged on, Connoly's paper The Worker's Republic began to grow more and more insurrectionary. In the meantime leaders of the Irish Volunteers laid their plans for an armed rising at the earliest opportunity.

To establish a German connection, Sir Roger Casement sailed for Germany. Connolly had by this time developed the idea that the masses in Europe would get tired of the endless slaughter of the World War and would rise in a popular revolution. He reached the conclusion that a revolt in Ireland would spark this off.

Shortly before Easter Week 1916 a German ship carrying twenty thousand rifles left Hamburg for Ireland. At the same time, Casement left Germany in a submarine, also bound for Ireland. He landed on a lonely stretch of the Kerry coast and was arrested almost immediately. The rebels failed to make contact with the arms ship and after waiting about for three days the German ship was discovered by British naval destroyers and was scuttled by its crew to avoid capture.Meanwhile Pearse and his fellow officers of the Irish Volunteers had taken Connolly into their confidence and told him that they were going to launch a rising on the Easter Sunday. They planned to do this under cover of a joint week-end route march and military exercises in conjunction with the Citizen Army.

When they informed the nominal head of the Volunteers, Professor Eoin McNeill, of their intentions they gave him the shock of his Iife. The Professor decided that the Rising would fail and in order to prevent it taking place he sent orders to the Volunteers all over Ireland cancelling the week-end maneuvers. This had the effect of preventing all Volunteers except those immediately under the command of Pearse and his followers taking part in the Rising. Connolly, who was whole-heartedly in favour, brought the Citizen Army fully into the Rising.

On Easter Monday ninety-five years ago, a group of men stood on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin. Their leader, Patrick Pearse, read out the proclarnation of the Establishment of an Irish Republic. This was one of a series of incidents which startled Dubliners on that Easter Monday morning, when columns of uniformed and armed men took control of several buildings in the city. The rebellion was being carried out by members of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Arrny.

After getting over the initial surprise, the British Military Authorities counter-attacked, and Dublin became the scene of bitter fighting. The Rebels resisted all attempts to dislodge them from their positions until a gunboat sailed up the river Liffey and opened concentrated shell fire on the G.P.O. By Friday night the Post Office building was on fire and untenable. On Saturday, Pearse surrendered.

Courts martial were immediately set up to try the rebel leaders. All those who had taken a leading role in the rebellion were sentenced to death by shooting. On 3rd May, the first three were executed, among them Patrick Pearse. The executions continued at regular intervals until protests from English newspapers such as the Manchester Guardian and such persons as George Bernard Shaw, persuaded the authorities to call a halt. In all fifteen of the leaders were shot; the remainder had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

Among these who were executed was the labour leader and self-styled "socialist," James Connolly. Connolly claimed to be a socialist and it is claimed by his present-day followers that he died in an effort to create a Socialist Republic in Ireland. But from his life we can see that he was not a socialist, just another social reformer. He believed that once Ireland had achieved political freedom from England, social justice would folIow.

What the Easter Rising did lead to was the establishment of a new capitalist state and the emergence of a new native ruling dass, holding sway over the lives of the Irish working-class.The executions of the rebels was applauded in the House of Commons in London by John Redmond and other members of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

Murphy, the employer's leader, had called in the Irish Independent for the execution of Connolly. After the Rising, on May 13th, Connolly, who had had one of his legs amputated through wounds received in the fighting, was sat in a chair and shot by a firing squad.

......To-day, fifty years after, all the Irish political parties, the Roman Catholic Hierarchy, employers and so on, are commemorating the event.

They are staging a Nation-wide Three Ring Circus. The plain facts about modern, "free' and Republican Ireland are - fifty thousand unemployed, several thousand more living under the spectre of unemployment; thousands of old age pensioners trying to live on £2 a week; over one million people who have had to emigrate to England to find work.

Perhaps the crowning event for 1966 was the Free Trade Agreement which the Irish Government signed a short time ago with the "Ould enemy," England! ....The Irish Republican leaders blamed the dreadful social conditions in Ireland on British rule when in fact these conditions are part and parcel of the capitalist system of society all over the world.

To end them, calls not for a national revolution, but rather for the organising of the working class all over the world, to replace capitalism with socialism.

From Socialist Standard April 1966 (Some amendments)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Their Scotland or Our World?


The Socialist Party's leaflet for the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections can be read here

the capitalist food crisis

U.S. corn prices soared to their highest level since the food crisis of 2008. Corn futures have more than doubled since last summer.

Global agriculture currently produces 4,600 calories per person per day, enough food to feed the world population, but much of that is being lost along the supply chain. Despite adequate crop production, food is not always distributed to where it is needed, said Sudhakar Tomar, the managing director of Hakan Agro, a food trading company in Dubai. If people in the developed world ate 10 per cent less meat, enough farmland would be freed up to grow an extra 500 million tonnes of lentils and pulses every year. With better agricultural practices, food security could be achieved within a lifetime. Thirty per cent of food may be lost or wasted before and after it reaches the consumer, according to a recent British government report. Other estimates put the figure at fifty per cent. Technology that can tell when food is spoiled could be more efficient than relying on 'best before' dates. Food no longer fit for human consumption could be used as animal feed, while other, edible surpluses could be recycled to the needy.

Many farmers in the American southern states will be planting cotton in ground where they used to grow corn, soybeans or wheat - spurred on by cotton prices that have soared as clothing makers clamour for more and poor harvests crimp supply. The result is an acreage war between rival commodities used to feed and clothe the world.
''There's a lot more money to be made in cotton right now,'' Ramon Vela, a farmer in the Texas Panhandle, said . Farmers say they have no choice but to plant the crops that give them the best chance of making money. "...from a humanitarian perspective it's kind of scary,'' Webb Wallace, executive director of the Cotton and Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, said. ''Those people in poor countries that have a hard time affording food, they're going to be even less able to afford it now.'' Artificial fabrics have increased their prices as well, between 35 percent and 100 percent since December of 2009 affected by increases in the prices of petroleum and they are still climbing.

Also around a fifth of the world's farmland is currently used to grow crops for biofuels rather than food. The United States, which once was able to act as a global buffer of sorts against poor harvests elsewhere, is now converting massive quantities of grain into fuel for cars, even as world grain consumption, which is already up to roughly 2.2 billion metric tons per year, is growing at an accelerating rate. A decade ago, the growth in consumption was 20 million tons per year. More recently it has risen by 40 million tons every year. But the rate at which the United States is converting grain into ethanol has grown even faster. In 2010, the United States harvested nearly 400 million tons of grain, of which 126 million tons went to ethanol fuel distilleries (up from 16 million tons in 2000). This massive capacity to convert grain into fuel means that the price of grain is now tied to the price of oil. So if oil goes to $150 per barrel or more, the price of grain will follow it upward as it becomes ever more profitable to convert grain into oil substitutes. And it's not just a U.S. phenomenon: Brazil, which distills ethanol from sugar cane, ranks second in production after the United States, while the European Union's goal of getting 10 percent of its transport energy from renewables, mostly biofuels, by 2020 is also diverting land from food crops.

Financial speculation is also helping keep grain prices high. John Sanow, a grain market analyst with Telvent DTN, notes that speculators often cause exaggerated price swings because they trade on momentum. As prices rise, investors snap up futures contracts for grain, driving prices higher. Financial deregulation opened the door for pensions, hedge funds and other big investors to buy more contracts in the commodities market. That made grain markets far more volatile, said Scott Irwin, an agriculture economics professor at the University of Illinois. President Nicolas Sarkozy -- the reigning president of the G-20 -- is proposing to deal with rising food prices by curbing speculation in commodity markets. Useful though this may be, it treats the symptoms of growing food insecurity, not the causes.

No one knows where this intensifying competition for food supplies will go. Food nationalism may help secure food supplies for individual affluent countries, but it does little to enhance world food security. The Food and Agriculture Organization collects and analyzes global agricultural data and provides technical assistance but there is no organised effort to ensure the adequacy of world food supplies.


The top 1% owns 40% yet the poor get poorer

The bottom half of the world's population own just 1.1 per cent of global wealth, while the top one per cent controls 39.9 per cent - Thomas Pogge

Since 2001, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, "funded by all willing governments and devoted to combating diseases that kill 4.4 million people each year'', has committed about US$12.6 billion and spent about US$8.6 billion. This expenditure comes to roughly US$220 per fatality, yet between 2001 and 2009 the US government alone has spent US$944 billion on the War on Terror. "This amount comes to roughly US$314 million per US fatality - over a million times more per fatality."

360 million - have died from hunger and remediable diseases in peacetime in the 20 years since the end of the Cold War than perished in wars, civil wars and Government repression over the entire 20th century. If someone who is sincerely convinced that every abortion constitutes the destruction of an innocent human life is rational in campaigning against abortion then the needless deaths of the unborn children constitute a moral evil, so, too, must the needless deaths of innocent children through poverty. Eighteen million people, many of them children, die every year from poverty-related causes. Why aren't pro-life anti-abortion people actively campaigning to end it?

The U.S. unemployment rate edged up to 9.8 percent in November 2010, and the number of unemployed persons was 15 million in November, among whom, 41.9 percent were jobless for 27 weeks and more. Some 6.3 million people have been out of work and looking for a job for more than six months. About half of the fall in the jobless rate during the last four months was caused by Americans who gave up looking for work and left the labor force. To collect those benefits, the jobless must show that they are searching for work, and the longer people are without a job, the less time they spend looking.

A total of 44 million Americans found themselves in poverty in 2009, four million more than that of 2008. The share of residents in poverty climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest level recorded since 1994.14.7 percent of U.S. households were food insecure in 2009, an increase of almost 30 percent since 2006.The number of families in homeless shelters increased 7 percent to 170,129 from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2009.The number of Americans without health insurance increased from 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009, the ninth consecutive annual rise, which accounted for 16.7 percent of the total U.S. population.

Here are some more facts:

• The richest 1 percent of Americans took 23.5 percent of all the country’s income in 2007. In 1976 they got only 8.9 percent. Gross domestic income was $14 trillion in 2007.

• The lowest fifth on the income ladder saw a decrease in income of 4.1 percent between 1979 and 2008. In the same period, the incomes of the top five percent increased 73 percent.

• The richest 1 percent of US households in 2007 owned 33.8 percent of the nation’s private wealth, more than the combined wealth of the bottom 90 percent.

• The Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans own about as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent of American households.

Currently the top 10 percent of income earners in the US own 70 percent of the wealth, and the wealthiest 5 percent own more than the bottom 95 percent, according to a Federal Reserve Study. The ratio of average CEO pay to worker pay in the US shot up from a mere 301-to-1 in 2003 to 431-to-1 in 2004. The average CEO now earns $11.8 million per year, versus the paltry $27,460 for the average worker. As America tries to grapple with soaring healthcare costs and lack of universal coverage, UnitedHealth Group CEO William McGuire received an obscene $124.8 million in compensation in 2005.

Santa Cruz, California, city officials are calling for "shared sacrifice": Since 2003, top management pay grew on average by 28 percent, adjusted for 16 percent inflation over those years, a real INCREASE of 12 percent. Meanwhile, the city's civilian non-management staff -- temporary and permanent -- saw wage increases totaling 13 percent over those same years; 15 percent less than top management pay. Adjusted for inflation, a real DECREASE of 3 percent.

Brazil Nuts

Brazil, one of the world's richest economies alongside a social world among the poorest. Much of the arable land is controlled by a handful of wealthy families. In the big cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, a third of the population lives in favelas, or slums. With the exception of six countries, Brazil is ahead of all the world's countries in the value of production, but according to UNESCO, at 88th place in education.

Brazil is the seventh in the value of GDP, but according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the 55th country in the per capita income, a power inhabited by poor people.

The world's seventh economy, but according to Transparency International, due to corruption, 69th place in the order of countries with ethics in politics. The perfect grade is 10; Brazil has a grade of 3.7.

According to the World Bank, Brazil is the world's 8th worse country in terms of income concentration, better only than Guatemala, Swaziland, the Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia.

The seventh economic power but of our children's school attendance, in hours per day, days per year and years over the course of a lifetime, is among the worse in the entire world with the greatest inequality in each person's education, depending upon the income of the student's parents. The 10% richest Brazilians receive educational investments nearly 20 times greater than the 10% poorest.. A UNESCO report released in March shows that the majority of the world's illiterate adults live in only ten countries. Brazil is one of them, with 14 million, with the added aggravation that, in Brazil, which has a national flag inscribed with the words "Ordem e Progresso," they cannot even recognize on their own flag. From 1889 to today, Brazil reached the seventh position in the world in the economy, but now have almost three times more illiterate adult Brazilians than in that year, besides our 30 to 40 million functional illiterates. According to a study of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which researched 46 countries, Brazil remains in last place in the percentage of young people completing secondary school. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), teacher remuneration lags behind countries like Mexico, Portugal, Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and the Philippines.

Brazil is the seventh power, but has illnesses like dengue fever, malaria, Chagas and leishmaniasis. Some 22% of the population lives without running water and more than half without sewerage connections. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), 43% of Brazilian homes, 25 million, are not considered adequate for habitation; they do not have the combination of running water, sanitary drainage and garbage collection.

Scarcity not a necessity

When faced with problems people seek solutions – not least to those problems generated by the market allocation of the things we need to live.

Current economic theory assumes resource scarcity, and there is a general consensus that scarce resources are best allocated by means of the market. However, a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, suggests that there may be alternative solutions to the allocation problem and that resource scarcity is not a necessity:

“The market as an allocation mechanism has not been able to distribute food to everyone – every sixth person in the world does not have access to enough food,” says Adel Daoud, author of the thesis.

Capitalist economists argue that scarcity is best dealt with through the mechanisms of a market – the highest bidders gain access to the world’s scarce resources. One consequence of market allocation is that although there is enough food in the world people are still go hungry.

“The market as an allocation mechanism has not been able to distribute food to everyone – every sixth person in the world does not have access to enough food,” says Adel Daoud, author of the thesis.

He asks – do we need the market?

“Maybe we do, given the present economic system [our emphasis], but we should at the same time ask ourselves whether any alternative allocation models could help us manage the world's resources better, not least considering the climate threat. A so-called economic democracy could be one such solution. In an economic democracy, citizens get to have a say about what and how much of various products and services should be produced.”

If by “economic democracy” he means common ownership, democratic control and production directly for use, then we can only heartily agree — it’s what we urge our fellow workers, including Adel Daoud, to establish.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

poverty amidst plenty

In a world that takes a pride in plenty, prosperity and progress, millions of people remain chronically undernourished and food insecure; a little over billion live on the equivalent of less than a dollar per day. Many people don't have enough to eat to keep them on an even keel. That means that they are in a state of hunger - chronic or transitory.

The economist Kausik Basu contends that total income (in 1998) of Hollywood's richest 50 individuals would exceed the total income of Burundi's entire population of 7 million. If Bill Gates decided to encash and consume the increase in the value of his total assets that he reaped over the past year, he would be able to consume more than the total annual consumption of the 60 million people of Ethiopia.

About 925 million don't have enough to eat - more than the population of the USA, Canada, and European Union. 98%of world's hungry live in developing countries - 65% living only in seven countries: India, China, DRP Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Women make up a little over half of the world's population but they account for 60 per cent of world's hungry.

“More poor people are suffering and more people could become poor because of high and volatile food prices. We have to put food first and protect the poor and vulnerable, who spend most of their money on food,” World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said.

The World Bank estimates than an additional 44 million people have come below the $1,25 dollar extreme poverty line since June 2010. A further 10% increase in food prices could lead to 10 million people falling into poverty, and a 30% increase could increase poverty by 34 million people.

India, the world’s second largest wheat producer, is always surplus but despite that millions of poor people in the country continued to suffer from hunger and poverty.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The living god dies

"I am God. You too are God. The only difference between you and me is that while I am aware of it, you are completely unaware."

Despite Sai Baba having previously assured his followers that he would not die anytime soon, Hindu guru Sathya Sai Baba was hospitalised a month ago and needed breathing support and dialysis. Two days ago doctors announced he was suffering from multiple organ failure and had stopped responding to treatment. After the 86-year-old's death was announced yesterday morning. Narendra Nayak, President of Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, speaking before the guru's death said: "Sai Baba is a third rate prestidigitator and manipulator who is now paralysed and he cannot cure himself. How can he cure others? There is a saying in English – physician heal thyself. So I would say Baba heal yourself."

The guru had a vast following and his movement established ashrams in more than 126 countries. His supporters included high-ranking politicians, movie stars, industrialists and athletes. His death has set off speculation as to who will inherit the leadership of his network. The late Sri Sathya Sai Baba was a Living God to millions of his followers but was also the holder of a more mundane title - chairman of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, formed in 1972. The Trust controls assets of more than $8 billion. The trust runs a university complex, a 220-bed hospital, a world religion museum, a planetarium, a railway station, a hill-view stadium, a music college, an administrative building, an airport and an indoor sports stadium. Court documents allege he owned two Mercedes limousines, two BMWs, one Daimler, one Jaguar, and plenty of other Indian vehicles. The documents also allege he had the roof of his temple lined with solid gold. The grounds of his ashram contain a museum, mostly dedicated to his own works and there are numerous statues, including a slightly larger than life gold statue of Sai Baba himself, a gold chariot, a silver chariot and a cricket pitch laid for an international tournament for which he offered as a trophy a solid gold cup weighing 20kg and valued at £150,000.

In the UK his organisation has exploited the requirement for schools to provide spiritual, moral and cultural development, which was introduced in the 1988 Education Reform Act. It promotes the lessons as a way to reverse the trend towards anti-social behaviour and the international Sathya Sai organisation says almost 200 schools across the UK have acquired its manuals. The UK courses were written by Sai Baba follower Carole Alderman, a regular visitor to his ashram and a devout believer. She has no teaching qualification but did run the Christmas play at his ashram for six years. Asked in an interview with the Sai radio station about the relevance of his teachings to the challenges faced by contemporary society, she replied: "I'm happy! Almost all of the time. And if I have any problems, I can just turn to Him and He'll sort them out for me." Former Sai organisation teacher Robert Priddy, who helped set up the teacher training model, said most people teaching the programme were unqualified to do so. "The aim of embedding 'spiritual' values in children was heavily imprinted with indoctrinating them to believe in Sai Baba's divinity and doctrine."
Sai Baba had also been denounced by the Indian Rationalists Association, who debunked his "miracles" and pointed to numerous videos available on the internet which show the one-time conjurer producing items from various places where he has concealed them, including his mop of hair.

He was never slow to proclaim his own divinity, insisting that his arrival on earth was prophesied by Jesus, that he was the one who originally sent Jesus to Earth and that he was clearly the Lamb of God because his name – Ba Ba – is the noise a sheep makes. But for his growing army of critics, he was nothing short of a child-molesting fraud who had for years taken advantage of the gullibility of his young male followers to sexually abuse them during private audiences in his rooms. For many years the US government warned its citizens to stay away from the ashram because of the risk and UNESCO, the UN's Educational, Social, and Cultural Organisation, pulled out of a conference at the ashram citing deep concerns about "widely-reported allegations of sexual abuse".

In 1974 Sai Baba announced that he would live to the ripe age of 96. Nayak said that his failure to reach the age at which he had claimed he would die should be enough to convince people Sai Baba was no God.

“Socialism with Chinese characteristics” or State Capitalism


Chinese Communist Party leader Wen Jiaobao last month promised to eliminate poverty by 2020.

China's numbers of billionaires at 115 is second in the world but catching up on the US’s 412. The number of Chinese individuals with net worth of at least 10 million yuan (€1.05 million) will by the end of 2011 have doubled in three years to 590,000, accordiing to a survey conducted by global consultants Bain Co and China Merchants Bank. And China’s wealthiest this year alone can expect their combined assets of 18 trillion yuan (€1.9 trillion) to rise by a fifth.

By 2009 the richest 10 per cent of Chinese controlled some 45 per cent of the country’s wealth, the poorest, just 1.4 per cent.

Changes in the official poverty level, raising it from €0.34 a day to €0.43, will triple the still massively understated numbers of “extreme poor” to 100 million. By the UN’s measure, twice that level, some 245 million Chinese remain in extreme poverty.

Deng Xiaoping called it “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” !!!

Public Meeting

Saturday 14 May 1pm to 5pm, Community Central Halls 304 Maryhill Road Glasgow

The Rise of Chinese Capitalism
Speaker Paul Bennett

Sunday, April 24, 2011

a war for freedom?

In February, as elsewhere in the Arab World, in places like Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul and Tikrit, protesters took to the streets, intent on reform - focused on ending corruption and the chronic shortages of food, water, electricity and jobs - but not toppling the government of prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The response by government security forces, who have arrested, beaten, and shot protesters, leaving hundreds dead or wounded, however, was similar to that of other autocratic rulers around the region. Attacks by Iraqi forces on freedom of the press, in the form of harassment, detention, and assaults on individual journalists, raids of radio stations, the offices of newspapers and press freedom groups have also shown the dark side of Maliki's regime. Many journalists have been prevented from covering protests or have curtailed their reporting in response to brutality, raising the spectre of a return to the days of Saddam Hussein's regime when press freedom was a fiction.

The US, however, have turned a blind eye to the violence and repression, with the top spokesman for the US military in Iraq praising the same Iraqi units which eyewitnesses have identified as key players in the crackdown while ignoring the outrages attributed to them.

Samer Muscati, a researcher for Human Rights Watch's Middle East division who just completed a fact-finding mission in Iraq, echoed this, noting that - while more journalists were killed in attacks during the height of Iraq's insurgency - the strengthening of the Iraqi government has led to different hazards for reporters. "They're at more risk, now, of being harassed or interrogated or targeted by security forces or their proxies," he said. Reports suggest that Maliki is now intent on dismantling much of what remains of the free press in Iraq.

20 armed men, clad in distinctive uniforms topped by red berets or helmets bearing a skull and cross-bones, burst into the Baghdad offices of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, an Iraqi press freedom group. On what was billed as a "Day of Rage", Iraqi security forces detained 300 leading journalists, lawyers, artists and intellectuals who took part in or covered the protests over domestic issues and government accountability. Four journalists who were picked up long after leaving the protests in Baghdad's Tahrir Square told the Washington Post that troops operating out of the headquarters of an army intelligence unit had beaten them and threatened them with execution. Reporters also had their cameras and memory cards confiscated, Muscati told me. Other assaults on press freedom, including attacks on radio and television stations and the roughing up of reporters, took place all across the country. Sherry Ricchiardi, an expert on the press in the Middle East sees the recent repression in stark terms. "It is part of the orchestrated crackdown on media. The Iraqi government and security forces appear to be getting bolder in attacks on media."

Like other countries across the region, social media has played a major role in activist organising in Iraq. The Washington Post noted that the same progressive young Iraqis who organised the "Day of Rage" that brought tens of thousands, from all across the country, into the streets saw their Facebook group leap from 700 followers to 4,000 in a country with extremely limited internet access (another group they started had, by mid-March, 10,000 members). Since then, Facebook has played a widening role in the protest movement.
"We, right now, are dealing with the ministry of defence to help them understand how to employ Facebook," said Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, the chief spokesman for the United States Forces-Iraq.

Human Rights Watch's Muscati explained that protest organisers in Baghdad said that they've seen on-line countermeasures employed against their organising efforts on Facebook.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Vietnam - who has won?

On this day in 1975 President Ford declared that the Vietnam War is over as far as America is concerned. Below is a contemporary yet timeless socialist assessment from our journal.

WE AGAIN TAKE the opportunity provided by one of capitalism's bloody wars, to reaffirm the fact that no war is worth the shedding of a single drop of working dass blood.

We repeat again: there are no issues or interests involved in any war that are the least concern of the working class. This vile madhouse called capitalism has created an endless succession of wars. Since this Party was forrned in 1904 we have condemned them all.

The SPGB stood alone during both world wars, in opposition to both sides and to all parti es to the slaughter. We took our stand then on the ground of the common interest of all the world's workers: the need for world class-unity to abolish this plunder­ing system which constantly throws up war.

We argued that the commerce of capitalism, its ceaseless quest for profits, the rival economic interests of the international capitalist dass (backed by their gangster politicians), their struggles for markets and resources, was the driving force for war. It was then. It is now.

Whether the scene of mass extermination and devas­tation be set in Europe or the Middle East, in Russia, Algeria, Bangladesh or Vietnam the Socialist case remains the same. We deny absolutely that workers have national interests. Which section of the world capitalist dass rules, makes scant difference to the ruled. Victor or vanquished the worker remains a wage-slave. A member of a subject and exploited dass which owns no country - no markets - no vested interests.

Surely, of all people, this bitter lesson should have been thoroughly learned by the workers and peasants of Vietnam? They have been ruled by the French, the Japanese, the British and their home-grown des­pots. Always their position has remained the same, Whether they endure their misery under the yoke of dictators like Marshal Ky, Diem and Thieu, held in power by the armed might of America - or switch masters and suffer the same horrors under the sons of Ho Chi Minh backed by the armed might of state-capitalist Russia and China, there is no difference to the victims. The only difference is, which gang gets the spoils. That is really what it's all about. You can put the pretended differences of ideology in a pig's eye.

A succession of American Presidents have sub­merged themselves in the blood of Vietnam. Kennedy, still widely remembered as a man of peace, escalated the war. Johnson did the same with a vengeance. He coined the inhuman phrase "quotient of pain" and tried to bomb the North into submission. Nixon vigorously supported the mass bombing policy of the Johnson administration. Writing in Readers Digest January 1966 Nixon argued that

"A real victory - one that guarantees independence for South Vietnam - will take two years or more of the hardest kind of fighting. It will require stepped up air and land attacks."

He also showed himself to be well aware of the hard strategic and economic motives behind the war:

"However, if Vietnam is lost, China would gain vast new power. The rest of South-East Asia, including most importantly Indonesia, would inevitably fall under communist domination. This would mean that within five years the Chinese would be infinitely stronger economically with 200 million more people as well as half the world's rubber and half the world's tin under their control."

When he became President in 1968 his two more years of bombing and fighting were gone. Faced with a militarily impossible situation and a growing climate of opposition to the war at home, coupled with the desertion of thousands from the armed forces in Vietnam, he went to the conference table.

Ground forces. were withdrawn after many months of haggling, while the blood still flowed. After the "settlement" vast amounts of rnilitary equipment con­tinued to pour in: America supplying the South, Russia and China the North.

For nearly thirty years, wanton waste and ruthless destruction of human life and of the earth's resources have been pursued with grim dedication by all sides. The indigenous populatron, whose "liberation" the pundits claimed to be their only aim were butchered in their hundreds of thousands. No winners here.

Just as loud-mouthed belligerence and beIlicose nationalism formed the basis of American propaganda and that of their southern puppets, so the same crude utterances were trumpeted by the left wing (CP and assorted Trots) in support of the North.

Not only have successive British governments (Labour and Tory) supported the American war effort, the post-war Labour government were first to start fighting in Vietnam when British forces took over from the Japanese in October 1945. "Hey hey LBJ how many kids you killed today?" was chanted at Johnson by Americans. But some of the napalm with which the kids were incinerated was supplied by British governments. Running capitalism leaves no room for the squeamish.

Whatever the outcome of the present situation, the baby-lift and the evacuations are passing incidents. If the so-called communists hold their ground and consolidate their powers, how long before it all starts up again? How long if the "reds" win, before America comes to terms with the new regime and starts domg business? Even if indirectly through their contacts in China? .

There are no principles higher than profits and no permanent alliances under capitalism. The changing alliances and the on-and-off wars in the Middle East make the point.

It is high time the workers of all lands finished killing and dying for capitalism, and proclaimed their own class interest by establishing Socialism.


(Socialist Standard May 1975)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Homeless in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan about 400 individuals were displaced each day in 2006-2010 - 730,000 in total - mostly due to military operations by US/NATO forces, according to the Oslo-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

The so-called “surge” in US/NATO troops and increased counterinsurgency operations in 2010 resulted in the displacement of about 85,000 people in the volatile south of the country alone. Foreign forces, whose ostensible aim is to protect civilians while fighting the Taliban, may be responsible - directly or indirectly - for the bulk of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country, whose number is rising.“Displacement is already increasing in the north,” Jacob Rothing, an IDMC country analyst said. Furthermore, local militias hired by the government and its US/NATO allies for counterinsurgency purposes, were extorting communities and grabbing land, resulting in further internal displacements.

Despite the unprecedented US/NATO military presence (over 150,000 soldiers), insecurity is widely anticipated to exacerbate in 2011 with more tragic consequences for civilians. Other humanitarian agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have also warned that the security situation has become “untenable” for civilians. “The first two months of 2011 have seen a dramatic deterioration in the security situation for ordinary Afghans,” ICRC said

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Enoch Powell was right!

Now we have your attention, we should clarify that he was correct about inflation. The BBC remains clueless Q&A: Inflation explained.
Although it might prove interesting to see what they have to say about Utah's move...
Is Gold the New Black? States Look to Bring Gold Standard Back

BEFORE HE JUMPED on the racialist band wagon, Enoch Powell was a man who spoke of the futility of attempts to make capitalism work other than in accordance with the economic laws of profit making.

Powell returned to this theme in a speech he made in Scotland on 20 November, in which he revealed that he is one of the few politicians to have some under­standing of the cause of inflation.

Inflation is a currency matter. If, with the level of production and trade remaining the same, the amount of currency in circulation is increased this will inevit­ably lead to a rise in the general level of prices because increasing the supply of money in these cir­cumstances is in effect to depreciate the currency,

If the government were to decree that from tomor­row all notes and coins would only be worth half their face-value, this would automatically cause all prices to be doubled. What was today priced at £1 would be priced at £2 tomorrow. When the French government decreed that from 1 January 1960 a franc would be worth a hundred times what it was before, this, in accordance with the same principle, automati­cally cut all prices in France a hundred times.

Doubling the amount of currency in circulation would tend to have the same effect as halving their face­values. The face-value of the notes and coins the government issues is arbitrary. They can fix them at any rate; divide them anyway (and alter this division, as they are doing with decimalisation), and call them any fancy names they choose, There is however a real relationship, which no government can alter (which we cannot go into here except to say that it can only be explained adequately on the basis of the Marxian Labour Theory of Value), between the amount of goods on sale and the money-commodity of which the notes and coins are but tokens.

A specialised means of exchange, currency (or money in its original sense) is needed so that the goods on sale can be bought and sold efficiently without having to resort to barter. If coins and notes could only be used once, the amount of currency needed would have to equal the sum of the prices of all the goods on sale. In fact the notes and coins can be used more than once and do circulate, but at any given time their "velocity of circulation" can be assumed to be constant.

This means that once the face-value of the currency has been fixed by the government there is, for a given level of production and trade, a given amount of cur­rency needed. If the government issues more than this they will depreciate the currency already in circulation. If they were to double the amount, for instance, then the purchasing power of the currency would tend to be halved. Each note and coin would then have to cover only half the value of the transactions it did before. Everything else being equal, £l would gradu­ally depreciate until it would buy only what lOs [50p] did previously. All prices, in other words, would be doubled - just as if the government had decreed a halving of the face-value of the currency.

Powell expressed this view clearly in his speech. "Inflation", he stated, "is a matter of money", and went on:

"If, during tonight while we sleep, a nought were to be added to every sum of money, we should still wake up to be doing the same things and producing the same tomorrow as today - neither ten times more nor, for that matter, ten times less. We should be neither better off nor (apart from some slight inconveniences) worse off. But we should have under­gone an almighty inflation, which was only painless because, in my imaginary, simplified picture, I sup­posed it to happen all at once and uniformly.

My example brings out another vitally important point, too. It not only shows how inflation is, as I said .to do with money and only money. It also illustrates how helpless everyone is to prevent infla­tion if money increases while everything else stays the same. Nobody, in short, can prevent the con­sequences of an increase in money.

Let us imagine that, instead of happening magically and painlessly overnight, and uniformly everywhere, the same increase of money had been injected like water flowing into a lake or cistern from a sluice or a valve at one end. Sooner or later the same result would have been arrived at in terms of prices, wages, pensions, etc. etc., but think of the wage claims and strikes and pensions increases Acts and all the rest that would have been involved in the proeess. That picture is close to real life; and look­ing at it, we realise that, whether they had liked it or not, all concerned could not have helped their incornes or their prices rising tenfold. It would have been impossible for anything else to happen, and no law, compulsion or tyranny could have prevented it."

This economic law -. that the general price level will tend to rise in proportion to the extra amount of currency issued, sometimes called the Quantity Theory of Money - was known to the Classical economists of the 18th and 19th centuries and was accepted by Marx. It came to be rejected by later economists in the course of the so-called Keynsian revolution. Governments acting on the advice of these Keynsians, issued more and more currency without considering the effect. The result has been inevitable: continually rising prices as the currency depreciated.

Prices can of course be affected by other things. Individual prices are affected by supply and demand, by monopoly conditions or by changes in productivity. The general price level goes up and down in the course of the business cycle and would be affected by a change in the value of gold. But the main reason why prices have risen since the war has been the over­issue of paper currency by the government.

Politicians are not usually original thinkers and the ideas of most of them, in both parties, reflect those of their mistaken Keynsian mentors. In their ignorance they have blarned, depending on their political preju­dices, either the trade unions for asking for too large wage increases or the big monopolies for using their special position to raise prices. Powell, who has often spoken out against the lies of his fellow politicians, has not hesitated to do so here:

"Wage claims, wage awards, strikes, do not cause rising prices, inflation, for one simple but sufficient reason - they cannot. There was never a strike yet which caused inflation, and there never will be. The most powerful unions, or group of unions, which was ever invented is powerless to cause prices gener­ally to rise ... In the matter of inflation, the unions and their members are sinned against, not sinning. In the matter of inflation, the unions and their mern­bers are as innocent as lambs, pure white as the driven snow."

Powell would no doubt be surprised to learn that, in more poetic language, he is echoing here the views expressed by Marx in Value, Price and Profit, still an invaluable guide to trade union activity. Powell went on:

"There are millions who . . . look with bitterness and hostility on the shops, on the manufacturers, on the importers, on the shareholders, who (they imagine) are making themselves rich by putting up prices against the consumers and the poor, and thus driving the workers into fresh rounds of wage de­mands and wage increases. It is not so - for a very simple reason: it cannot be so. The biggest, the greediest monopoly ever created or imagined is powerless to put up prices generally ... In the mat­ter of inflation, monopoly is perfectly irrelevant."

All this is very true.

There is, however, an ambiguity in Powell's position as expressed in other parts of his speech. At times he seems to be suggesting that "government expendi­ture finances inflation". In fact, as long as govern­ment expenditure is financed out of taxes it is as irrelevant as trade union action or monopoly as a cause of inflation. It would only be inflationary if it was financed by issuing more currency, and then the cause would be the extra currency not the way it was spent. Nor of course has Powell any understand­ing of the underlying value relationship between the money-commodity and all other commodities we re­ferred to earlier.

In commending (at least in part) Powell's analysis of inflation we are not in any way endorsing his policy for dealing with it. The government could cure infla­tion if it was prepared to face the political and indus­trial consequences by strictly controlling the amount of currency issued, but an end to inflation would not leave workers any better off. Their trade union struggle would have to and should continue, whatever the cur­rency policy of the government.

We are concerned with understanding how capitalism works not with a view to suggesting what policy the government should pursue, but with a view to showing how it can never work in the interests of wage and salary earners.

Like Powell, we know that capitalism can only work according to the laws of profit-making, Unlike Powell, we realise there is an alternative ­Socialism. To achieve that is our policy.


(Socialist Standard, February 1971)

child poverty

Persistent poverty harms the cognitive development of children, but family instability has no effect, a new study suggests. Researchers analyzed data collected from almost 19,000 British children and their families when the children were 9 months, 3 years and 5 years old. The data provided insight into family poverty, family transitions, family demographics and housing conditions. There is much evidence of the negative effects of both poverty and family structure on child development, particularly persistent poverty and adverse living conditions. Poverty and family instability are linked as poverty affects families economically and socially and can increase the risk of relationship break-ups. However, less is known about their relative impact on children's cognitive functioning.

They found that children growing up in persistent poverty scored lower on cognitive tests than those who had never experienced poverty. After they accounted for a number of factors, the researchers concluded there was no link between family structure/instability and a child's cognitive ability, but persistent poverty did have a strong and significant negative effect on a child's cognitive functioning at 5 years of age.

They conclude: "Persistent poverty is a crucial risk factor undermining children's cognitive development – more so than family instability."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

pension injustice for the poor

Around 19pc of men from the lowest social classes, such as manual labourers, cleaners and packers, die before they reach 65, compared with just 7pc of men from the highest social group, according to Malcolm Wicks, the former Labour pensions minister.

Women from poorer backgrounds are also twice as likely to die before they qualify for the state pension, with 10pc of the poorest women dying before they reach 60, compared with just 4pc of those who are better off.

Even among those who do live long enough to draw their state pension, poorer workers tend to have lower life expectancy. A 65-year-old man in the lowest social class is expected to live for an average of four years less than one in the highest social class, with a life expectancy at retirement of 14.1 years compared with 18.3 years for someone better off. The life expectancy gap for women of different social classes is also just over four years.

Wicks warned that increasing the state pension age to 66 by 2020, and then to 68 in future, would hit those from the lowest social classes the hardest. He said a failure to take on board the life expectancies of people in different social classes would result in injustice. He said:
"A pension penalty is often paid by those from the lowest social classes, people whose work involves labouring jobs, driving vans, packing and cleaning etc. Some die before pension age, while others enjoy fewer pension years. These are people in the main who left school at 15 or 16 and have been in the labour market ever since. By their 60s many of them are worn out and simply need the rest that retirement can offer."

war for oil

In March 2003, just before Britain went to war, BP denied that it had any "strategic interest" in Iraq, while Tony Blair described "the oil conspiracy theory" as "the most absurd" now the Independent reports plans to exploit its oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world's largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in the invasion.

The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq "post regime change". Its minutes state: "Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity." BP told the Government it was willing to take "big risks" to get a share of the Iraqi reserves, the second largest in the world.

But for many that's old news.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Is the Marxian theory of history still relevant

Peter Thompson's third article concerning Karl Marx ends appropriately enough with an a famous quotation from the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."

Like Marx, we take the view that human existence is social existence which changes as an historical process. This is the very broad base from which we set out to exp­lain human acrivity both now and in the past. Such a process of change owes its continuity to the fact that each decision and action sets the social stage for succeed­ing decisions and actions. Thus the nature of the problems we face now rests impor­tantly on the decisions and actions taken by past generations.

In our own time we are involved with these problems and also thereby with the potential conditions of society to come. Within the actions that we advocate now exists the promise of a better future or its opposite - continuing disaster. Therefore at no time is the past completely dead; it lives on in thought and action and contri­butes, as a unified structure of past, pre­sent and future, to the way we function now.

It is in this way that socialists under­stand present day problems in the light of history. In respect of present day problems it is useful to ask three questions, the answers to which are critically important. They are:

1. Why is it that as a society we do not do the things we say we want to do?
2. If we are not doing these things, what are we actually doing?
3. By what process of history did we arrive in this position?

The given aspirations of this century have been peace and material security, and this assumes that our society is concerned with the material well-being and happiness of the whole community. But the very fact that the claims of political manifestoes have not basically changed over 100 years is evidence that we have not been able to do the things we say we want to do. The so­cial problems of poverty still exist, the threat of annhilation in war is greater than a century ago, and the population bears a harrowing burden of stress.

An obvious feature of our society is that we live with a continuing gap between the aspirations, and the reality, of life. What, then , are we actually doing, and how did we come to be in this mess? The Materialist Conception of History provides a method of enquiry which leads directly to the most significant facts. It puts forward the proposition that to understand a soci­ety - how it works, what its problems are, and the key factors behind its development - there are basic aspects which must be examined.

Most importantly, we have to under­stand how society sustains its material exis­tence. We have to answer the question ­how does this society produce and distri­bute its wealth, who gets what and how do they get it? This means that we must iden­tify the productive relationships of society - the particular classes having different in­terests in relation to each other about pro­duction and the ownership of productive apparatus and resources. Of crucial impor­tance is the question of who controls the centres of decision making, which under capitalism is the state machinery and the forces of power which ensure that decisions are carried out. Also important are the ex­ternal relationships of society in respect of other political groupings; geographical fac­tors; its ideas and history. The combination of all these factors will reveal the inner ten­sions and conflicts of interest which exist between classes.

There are two main parts to Marxian theory which are dependent on each other. These are the Labour Theory of Value and the Materialist Conception of History. The Labour Theory of Value sets out the economic laws which regulate commodity production under capitalism. The Materialist Conception of History places the productive relationships of commodity production, wage labour and capital in the setting of history.

In what way does Marxian theory ans­wer our original question - why can't we do the things we say we want to do? The question makes definite assumptions about our society; it assumes that we should pro­vide for peace, material security and happi­ness. But clarification of the nature of capitalism in the light of the important questions that Marxism asks reveals that peace, material security and happiness are unrealistic expectations. They are at odds with the real objectives of capitalism. It is impossible to find a direct link between productive relationships, the economic and social organisation of capitalism, and human needs.

The most important decisions that soci­ety makes are those about the production and distribution of goods and the provision of services, but under capitalism these are not primarily concerned with human needs. We find that the motive initiating production is profit. The reason why capitalism does not provide material sec­urity is that it is dominated by the profit motive, which is hostile to material sec­urity.

Marx was careful to point out that this profit motive made no particular comment on the individual or group of capitalists who make this kind of decision. The profit motive is part of the definite economic laws of commodity production which cannot be ignored at will. Unlimited unprofitable production is impossible; capitalist produc­tion as a whole must be profitable.

As a social form of wealth the commod­ity , obeying the laws of value in an ex­change economy, is of recent historical ap­pearance. It is produced for sale on the market and its distribution is limited to those who are able and willing to buy it. Its sale on the market is the realisation of the object of its production which is profit and therefore the commodity is an anti-social form of wealth because it serves privileged class interest.

But Marx drew our attention to the fact that what makes the commodity as socially nasty as it is, is not something inherited in the physical form of the commodity itself. This was entirely due to the particular pro­ductive relationships between people which, under capitalism, is the cass re­lationship between wage labour and capi­tal; the capitalists and the workers. The capitalist class own the means of produc­tion and resources and on this basis buy the labour power of workers for wages or salaries. By exploiting this labour power, they accumulate capital and maintain their class domination of society.

This relationship of wage labour and capital did not suddenly appear out of the historical blue. It was preceded by such dif­ferent historical forms as serf and feudal overlord and slave and slave owner. We know that societies previous to slave soci­ety included group privileges arising from division of labour and that these were inci­pient class divisions. Before this we know in palaeolithic tribalism a primitive equal­ity with little or no division of labour.

These have been different patterns of social productive relationships and from these historical origins society is now based world wide on the wage labour - capital relationship. Commodity production be­gins with an exchange of the worker's labour power for wages and exploitation takes place because when put to work by the capitalist, the workers produce values over and above the value of their own wages. This surplus value is realised in money form when commodities are sold on the market, which is then available for re­circulation as accumulated capital. Thus commodity production is locked in to a cir­cular system of exchange and governed by profit and the class accumulation of capi­tal.

Under capitalism wage labour time is a commodity, bought and sold on the labour market. As with all commodities it is split between usefulness and exchange value. In pre-capitalist societies labour was not split in this way and only the usefulness of labour was brought into play. Every soci­ety must live by the products of useful labour, but under capitalist production the usefulness of labour is subordinate to its exchange value. This is to say that under capitalism the usefulness of labour can only be activated within a viable economic ex­change between labour time and capital. What we mean by viable is profitable from the capitalist's point of view.

This split between labour in its use form and labour in its value form, and the con­straints of profit and class interest which limit the use of labour tells us a great deal about the contradictions of capitalism. There is no other credible theory available which clarifies, for example, the fact that millions are unemployed while the world desperately needs more goods and ser­vices. Marxian theory clarifies the reasons why capitalism can neither solve its prob­lems nor work in the interests of the whole community. It clarifies persistent protest and continuing disillusion. The subordina­tion of useful labour to the wage labour­capital relationship is the surrender of human needs to profit and class interests. All the protests of our time are the protests of useful labour screaming to be released from its domination by capital. In the world of thought and consciousness this split between usefulness and exchange manifests itself as a confusion of identity. We are exchange values yearning to be so­cially useful and pretending most of the time that we are. This is the economic basis of our loss of connection between thought and the reality of our experience.


It is often argued that Marxism is a theory of economic determinism which diminishes the importance of ideas and decision mak­ing. There can be no doubt that under capitalist society the production and dis­tribution of commodities is regulated by the laws of value and the effects of these laws cannot be set aside merely by political good intention within the framework of capitalism.

This matter touches on the question "why can we not do what we say we want to do?" The Labour Party, for example, has always put itself forward as being against unemployment and has always claimed to be able to solve this problem. But in practice every Labour government has left office with more unemployed than when they took office. In 1974 when the last Labour government took office the un­employed stood at over 600,000 and when they left in 1979 the number was 1,300,000. Similarly during the 1979 election the Con­servatives said that they would reduce the unemployment figures, but in fact they have doubled since that time.

Unemployment reflects the pattern of capitalist trade and this cannot be control­led by governments. Here then we have a social problem, arising from commodity production, which is an example of economic forces which cannot be control­led and therefore appear to be independent of human will. However, it is entirely wrong to assume from this experience, that we are confronted with a social position about which we have no choice or ultimate control. Obviously, while workers support capitalism and fail to act on a realistic un­derstanding of the cause of the problem, then it will continue.

Unemployment, together with many other problems, is inevitable under capitalism. But this is not to say that we cannot think and act decisively about prob­lems. What is demonstrated is the value of Marxian theory, that on the basis of certain economic prernises certain consequences will follow. No Labour government, nor any other, could run capitalism without a reserve of unemployed workers.

Marxian theory, therefore does not di­minish the importanee of thought and human responsibility: it emphasises these things. Whether we like it or not, and whether we recognise it or not, the lessons of Marxist theory are present in every so­cial conflict and every argument about what we can or cannot do.

(Socialist Standard February 1984)