Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Overdetermination and Surplus Theory versus Marxian Theory (Part 1 and 2)

Part 1

Following the financial crisis of 2007 the space in the mainstream media for alternative economic ideas to neoliberalism expanded.  The media opportunities for Marxian economists increased and Wolff is one of those to have benefitted.  He has achieved something of a celebrity status in the United States in the past five years with regular radio and television appearances.  In a world where the name of Karl Marx is generally media-unfriendly, Wolff in particular has achieved attention through his media-friendly personality and style.  Stephen Resnick co-wrote several books with Wolff and they worked together for many years at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and their work has been labelled ‘Amherst Marxism’.
In 1987 Resnick and Wolff published a book titled Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical and recently they expanded and updated the theme with the publication of Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian (2012).  On the face of it a book which compares Marxian economics favourably with neo-liberal and Keynesian economics appears as if it should be given a warm welcome by socialists.  But all is not quite as it seems.  By far the longest section of the book, that dealing with Marxian economic theory, does not a present a summary of Marxian economics but the theories of Resnick and Wolff.  At first glance their work may appear to be merely a quirky presentation of Marxian economics but the further you read the more it becomes clear that they are revising it to incorporate their own theories.  One of their other books is called New Departures in Marxian Theory (2006) and their work as a whole should really been seen in this light.  Not so much building critically on Marxian theory (which is how they would like to see themselves) but departing from it. 

GENDER AND POWER (weekly poem)

GENDER AND POWER (1st Summer School Poem)

(The SPGB Summer School was recently held at Fircroft College,
Birmingham on the theme of ‘Gender and Power’. This is the
first of two poems written for the programme of that event.)

There's women's movements found out there,
That say all men should take the blame;
For everything that they don't share,
And men should hang their heads in shame.

But when one joins SPGB,
One starts to take a different view;
As after sometime one will see,
That this world view is not quite true.

Most men are not in that elite,
The ten-percent who fleece the poor;
Men work so families can eat,
They, too, are working-class, for sure.

But workers foolishly divide,
Into opposing little groups;
Instead of sticking to one side,
They cause themselves to jump through hoops.

And then you have black versus white,
And 'trans' against both 'straights' and 'gays';
And Brexiteers who want to fight,
For their deluded better days.

Remember the elite's made up,
Of men and women, a rich few;
So let's all sup from the same cup,
Us working folk should stick like glue!

© Richard Layton

Monday, August 13, 2018

Slavery and the US Civil War

Lincoln was against slavery but was a moderate and pragmatic politician and he hoped first to restrict slavery to those states in which it already existed but ultimately to enact a policy of abolition with compensation for slave-owners. With the victory of Lincoln and the new Republican party in the 1860 elections the long-term survival of slavery was threatened. Unable to expand production into avenues that did not depend on simple labour, slave-holders required new land to expand production and avoid land exhaustion. Without the ability to expand into new territories, southern slave-owners were doomed to a slow decline. The future of slavery in the US depended on the secession of the southern slave-holding states and so began the U.S. Civil War, a war in which around 750,000 soldiers and 50,000 civilians died over the rights of a narrow oligarchy to own slaves (300,000 were slave-owners, 1.5 percent of the total US population).
A short new book by James Heartfield,  British Workers and the US Civil War (ISBN 978-0956806123, £4), looks at the attempts of the British government to intervene in the US Civil War on the side of the Confederates. Though not overtly pro-slavery this intervention was aimed at denting the power of the USA in North America and drew on anti-democratic sentiment prevailing in the British establishment at that time. The British press and politicians were overwhelmingly in favour of intervention on the side of the slave-owners. They were unsuccessful, however, in creating a casus belli to assist the Confederate states despite efforts to do so. The case being made was one of supporting a fledgling state in its attempts at independence. In this context an attempt was made to mobilise the cotton mill workers of the north-west of England in support of intervention on the side of the Confederate states on the grounds of the state of their trade due to the shortage of cotton imports from the southern states. This shortage was due both to a blockade of southern exports by the Union navy but also deliberate withholding by Confederates to provoke such intervention. Unemployment and short-time working impacted heavily on British cotton mill workers, but they refused to support the cynical attempts to engage their political support in favour of slave-owners.
With the working-class radicalism of the Chartist movement still within memory for many, a counter movement emerged to support the Union cause. This was focused on the radical Union Emancipation Society which contained a core of working class supporters. By contrast the far more establishment British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society refused to take sides in the civil war. The popular support for the Union anti-slavery cause was assisted by Lincoln’s astute political move of issuing the Proclamation of Emancipation which made the war openly about the future of slavery. Thereafter it became politically impossible for the British government to intervene in favour of slavery. Having played an important part in preventing the possibility of war in support of the Confederates, the pro-Union anti-slavery agitation fed into a renewal of British working-class radicalism which helped to secure the 1867 Reform Act. Heartfield’s book is a timely reminder of how, decades after the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, the British ruling class had few qualms about intervening in a war that would have secured it elsewhere for their own ends and how working class radicalism played an important part in preventing it.
Marx and Engels considered the US Civil War to be the second revolutionary phase in the history of that country, involving the end of slave labour and the expropriation of slaver-owners. The thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments of the US constitution abolished slavery with no compensation to the slave-owners, granted citizenship to all those born or naturalised in the US and granted the right to vote and hold public office to all citizens. From its struggles with the expansionist southern slave-owners the northern industrial capitalists had emerged truly dominant in the US. With ‘free labour’ now the unchallenged form of exploitation, independent labour politics could develop in the US. As Marx put it: ‘Labour in white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in black skin.’ By the late nineteenth-century labour and socialist movements appeared to be flourishing in the US. However, we know what happened next. The history of the twentieth-century was one of the failure of labour politics and state capitalism and the marginalisation of revolutionary socialism. The US was the scene of a long battle against the rampant racism that still prevailed in the wake of slavery. It remains for the cause of the emancipation of labour to renew itself in earnest.
CSK 1904
From here

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Has The Labour Party Lost Its Way?

With trade unions and left wingers now talking about the re-formation of a Labour party, socialists ask why bother? The history of the Labour Party has been one long disaster for the working class. The short answer to the question of whether the Labour Party has lost its way is, no. Because what is currently the direction of its leaders has been part of its thinking throughout its existence. In power, as now, Labour has been a radical liberal party. This has not been a betrayal of its core principles or “values” but reflects its origins.
New Labour’s obsession with neo-liberal economics might seem like something of a new departure but the early Labour Party was tied to liberalism in a similar way. This argument should not be taken too far, as at least the collectivist currents in the early Labour Party made it feel like it was part of a movement to create a better society and many thought they were working towards a vaguely defined socialism. A collection of anecdotes of life in the Labour Party, Generating Socialism(Sutton, 1997; edited by Daniel Weinbren, foreword by Tony Benn, who else?) shows that many Labour members, however mistakenly, thought that socialism could be reached through Labourism. The optimism which could hold with Labour’s “rise” up to the mid-twentieth century, has turned into a marked pessimism associated with the supposed decline of the working class.
Nonetheless, the Labour Party was established not for socialist aims but to achieve political representation for working men. It was related to class struggle in that despite the trade unions’ reluctance to break away from the Liberal Party, industrial militancy and the Taff Vale decision which put their funds in danger meant that a strong feeling developed on the need for independent “Labour” representation in parliament. However, its socialist credentials were weak, as the Social Democratic Federation acknowledged when it withdrew from the Labour Representation Committee (which became the Labour Party in 1906) in 1901. Its social outlook was informed not by class-consciousness but, on its left-wing, by ethical protest at poverty and inequality as “wrong” and, on its right-wing, by an awareness that social dislocation caused by unregulated capitalism effected economic (capitalist) efficiency.
The Labour Party struggled to gain wide electoral support during its first ten years, gaining around fifty MPs by 1914. Its big break came with the first world war, which split the Liberal Party. Labour was active in the national government, supporting the war, but not tainted being tainted with its results. By the early 1920s, the Labour Party had emerged as the “progressive” party in British politics. While attracting such ex-Liberals at this time as Clement Attlee, it refused the affiliation of the Communist Party.
So why has the Labour Party been associated with the name of socialism? Largely because of its history of supporting nationalisation, often misleadingly called “public” or “social” ownership. This was the major problem for socialism in the twentieth-century—the standard dictionary definition being that nationalisation is socialism. The Labour Party’s commitment to nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange dates from 1905 but was adopted most famously in Clause IV of its 1918 constitution. Its acknowledgment that exchange would continue after nationalisation demonstrated that the wages system, and thus capitalism, would continue after nationalisation, albeit state-run. In effect Clause IV was translated as state ownership of the “commanding heights” of the economy. Quite what was hoped to be achieved by bringing industry into state instead of private ownership was not very clear apart from as a vague and fuzzy means to “greater equality”.
With central planning nationalisation was supposed to transform capitalism into something that could be controlled by the state. This did not happen of course. On transferring coal, steel, iron, fuel, power and transport to state ownership after 1945, the performance of British industry in the world market still continued to decline and the state sector remained an arena of industrial struggle. The remarkable blind faith of the Labour Party in nationalisation was reduced from the Attlee government onwards. Sadly, this decline in the faith of nationalisation has been represented as the death of socialism.
There are still some in the Labour Party and in the various left-wing organisations who claim that vast swathes of British industry should be re-nationalised. This is why many see “New” Labour as a dramatic break with “Old” Labour. Jim Mortimer (an ex-Labour Party general secretary) describes New Labour, in a recent pamphlet The Formation of the Labour Party – Lessons for Today (2000), as apologists for capitalism and the new Clause IV as “a symbolic change to mark the abandonment of Labour’s traditional advocacy of a widening area of social [state] ownership”. However, as socialists, we would prefer to see declining faith in nationalisation and the Labour Party as a positive development. The results of Labour governments are no longer clothed in the misleading garb of collectivism but show what they essentially are—managers of capitalism. Electoral imperatives, present from early in Labour’s existence, have triumphed over reforming rhetoric.
It is often argued that state welfare and social security provision are examples of Labour’s success in “doing something”, legislating against poverty and providing municipal housing and so on. Such measures have no socialist credentials but, on the contrary, were developed in their post-war form by the Liberal Beveridge. Moreover, regulating legislation has been a feature of all capitalist government since the Factory Acts of the 1840s. The simple case is that systems of social welfare do not change the exploitative character of capitalism or even touch the surface of its symptoms. Poverty has not been reformed away and poor housing, unemployment, job insecurity and related ill-health remain very real concerns for the working class. In fact, New Labour, rather than betraying Labour’s welfare extension tradition, has merely continued previous Labour retrenchment begun in the 1970s.
The democratic record of the Labour Party reads equally dubiously. It has always had a very limited acceptance of party democracy. The block vote, for example, allowed the trades unions to dominate the party conference, initially to the advantage of Liberal moderates but more recently to that of the left-wing, whereupon it was replaced. Also, Blair is not new in being a “strong” leader. Before 1922 the Labour party did not have a formal leader but a series of chairmen. After Ramsay MacDonald assumed chairmanship in 1922, however, the party adopted a leadership that exercised strong control over the party, especially as the Parliamentary Labour Party did not, and still does not, have to obey its conference. As has often been observed, the Labour Party has always had a strong cult of personality, of loyalties and bitter rivalries over who was best to lead a passive working class.
At its formation and in its early years the Labour Party had little connection with the growth of a socialist minority or even with the more militant sections of reformists. There were always some trying to build a “fairer” society but what emerged from years of effort was not a slowly evolving socialism but a Labourism which increasingly judged itself on its electoral success, which depended on its ability not to rock the capitalist boat it was trying to steer.
Those who want another century of reformist advance and retreat can go ahead and form a new Labour Party. Those who, learning from the failures of the past, desire the socialist alternative should join those who have rejected reformism and sought instead to make socialists and work for socialism-and-nothing-but.
from here

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Chartism: The Lessons of History

The Chartists struggled for political democracy in nineteenth-century Britain, but did they need a revolutionary leadership” any more than we need one today?

The Chartist movement, which lasted from 1836 to the 1850s, has been described as the first mass workers movement in history. In some ways it was. Chartism was a movement composed mainly of the working class that demanded the enactment of the People’s Charter, which would grant the vote to working class men.
The vote had been extended to a wider section of the propertied in 1832 amidst widespread fears of unrest. Propertied political radicals, who had previously courted working-class support to advance the extension of the suffrage to them, declined to endorse further extension; supported the Poor Law of 1834, which instituted the workhouse; backed vicious anti-trades union prosecutions; and refused to repeal the newspaper ‘tax on knowledge’. Unsurprisingly, a surge of working class consciousness and independent political organization was the result.
Within this new movement were strands of thought associated with individuals such as James ‘Bronterre’O’Brien, George Julian Harney and Ernest Jones that stressed the need for the Charter ‘and something more’, which anticipatedthe later development of revolutionary socialism.
Working class consciousness and the democratic-socialism (at this time meaning variants of Owenite socialism) of many of the supporters of Chartism were only elements of a diverse movement. Rather than an early mass workers movement it is more plausible to see Chartism as a popular movement in which these elements were significant developments. Hence the survival of older radical forms such as the prominence of the ‘gentleman leader’in the movement, exhorting the working class from the orator’s platform, and utilising the threat of force as the dominant strategy. Prominent in this respect was Feargus O’Connor, a radical Irish aristocrat, whose oratory and newspaper, the Northern Star, dominated early Chartism and defined the mainstream of the Chartist movement.
There were others in the movement who, although often desiring the ‘something more’that they anticipated would result from the Charter, wished to moderate the element of social threat. These ‘moral force’Chartists were exemplified by the London Working Men’s Association which was influential in the early stages of the movement, and drew up the People’s Charter with the assistance of the wealthy political radical Francis Place. By taking a moderate approach they hoped to draw in the support of propertied political radicals who wished to advance the suffrage for their own ends such as abolition of the Corn Laws and free trade. The Birmingham Political Union, for example, was an important body in the early stages of Chartism, through which it hoped to advance the currency crank ideas of its leading member, the wealthy capitalist Thomas Attwood. This section dropped out of the movement, however, (along with most of the other early propertied supporters) when the gravity of the movement shifted towards the industrial centres, and the working class presence and the tone of social threat increased.
The increasingly resolute working class presence on the national political scene was expressed at the other extremity of Chartism by those on the ‘physical force’wing of the movement who wished to fan the flames of insurrection. Their approach was characterized by the deployment of extreme and provocative language to threaten the propertied into granting the Charter, backed up with secret organization and insurrectionary zeal. Exhortations for the people to arm were commonplace and intimidating torch-light processions took place in some localities (until they were banned). It is debatable to what extent many on this side of the movement really believed in the possibility of successful armed insurrection, but by 1839 this section was increasing in influence.
The insurrectionary element in the Chartist movement has fascinated left-wing historians who see in it a frustrated revolutionary potential from which a modern vanguard can learn lessons. Adding to this literature is a new history of the Chartist insurrectionaries of 1839 by David Black and Chris Ford (1839 The Chartist Insurrection, London, Unkant Publishing, 2012, £10.99). It is a compelling read, telling the story of Chartism through the experiences of George Julian Harney and other ‘firebrand’Chartist leaders such as Dr. John Taylor and examining the ill-fated Newport Rising of 1839. The authors provide a vivid account of the revolutionary potential that had built up in Britain by the late 1830s, culminating in the aborted rising at Newport in which several Chartists were killed.
A successful rising in south Wales may well, as the authors claim, have resulted in a chain of risings. Their claim that it would have achieved “world historic importance”is questionable though. It may have extracted compromises on focal points of working class struggle such as the Ten Hour day, the poor law, bread prices and land monopoly. It may even have achieved further extension of the suffrage. But Black and Ford accentuate the existence of working class insurrectionaries in south Wales and elsewhere and not the rising’s shambolic failure in the face of a state resolutely set against the prospect of armed revolt by the Chartists. Indeed, the perceived threat of insurrection set the propertied against the Chartists in a way which the threat posed by their radical political demands did not. It was the overt social threat of: ‘peaceably if we may, forcibly if we must’, that meant the Chartists had to be defeated by the government on behalf of the propertied, even if ultimately its political demands could be conceded.
The authors seem disappointed at what they see as the paucity of revolutionary leadership within the Chartist movement. The proposed general strike in support of the Charter is regarded as a failed revolutionary opportunity because Feargus O’Connor refused to see it as a chance for the “revolutionary seizure of power.”Black and Ford argue that “the strike had an inexorable revolutionary logic: with no strike fund to draw on, the people would have to violate bourgeois property rights in order to eat” (pp.88-9). But most Chartists did not want a revolutionary seizure of power; they wanted an extension of the vote backed by the threat that if it was not granted then ‘force’might follow. Chartist leaders such as O’Connor did not want a showdown with the state via a general strike because he knew that the likely consequence would be defeat.
John Frost, the leader of the Newport Rising, is likewise characterized as a somewhat reticent and indecisive insurrectionary leader, not because he fell short as a revolutionary leader of proletarian revolution but because he did not see himself in these terms to begin with. He did not anticipate having to actually use force but believed, in line with the mainstream of the Chartist movement, that the threat of force would be sufficient to achieve Chartist objectives. He found himself a ‘gentleman leader’in a situation that escalated way out of his control. The Chartists at Newport, however sincere, walked into a confrontation that led to deaths and a subsequent display of the strength by state in which hundreds of arrests of Chartists were made across the country and John Frost, a broken man, was transported to Tasmania (a sentence of death having been commuted).
The authors suggest that Chartism was neither the tail end of radicalism nor the forerunner of socialism. But it contained plenty of the old in with the new. In their words, “In 1839 the ideas of Thomas Paine stood in dialogue with the socialistic ideas of Thomas Spence, Robert Owen, Bronterre O’Brien and Gracchus Babeuf” (p.199). Chartism was: “a conscious attempt by working-class insurgents to resolve …[capitalist] crisis by breaking the power of ‘Old Corruption’” (p.198). This is followed by the claim that “the movement undoubtedly did have revolutionary and socialist tendencies which persisted and developed” (p.199). It is clear that the intellectual inheritance of Chartism was a mixed bag of traditional radicalism and new Socialism. In trying to tell the story of insurrectionary Chartism, however, Black and Ford want to highlight a working class consciousness that is ripe for insurrectionary revolution. In so doing, although the story they tell was part of the Chartist movement, they highlight some voices in the movement at the expense of others.
Labour MP, John McDonnell, in the foreword to the book suggests that Black and Ford reveal that the threat to the British political establishment, even of revolution, in Britain in 1839 was closer than is often realized. This is indeed the main achievement of the book. But McDonnell also claims that the authors reveal a history that is suggestive of a possible “alternative revolutionary route” (p.xi) that could have been taken by British labour. This is to see a nascent revolutionary potential for seizing political power in the movement for democratic reform. Democratic reform, however, was expected, by those struggling to bring it about, to involve a significant shift in political power in favour of the working class and harmful to the propertied. Such a shift was anticipated, by supporters and opponents of the Charter alike, to result in measures beneficial to the working class. If revolution was on the agenda it was intended to achieve democratic reform from which the working class would benefit, not to advance a ‘proletarian’vanguard.
Black and Ford conclude that we should salute the Chartist insurrectionaries and seek to understand why they did not succeed in 1839. It is suggested that a major reason for their failure was weak revolutionary leadership. But, today, we have few positive lessons to learn from the bloody failure of past insurrections; less still do we need revolutionary leadership. Rather than inspiring an investigation into how such struggles can be harnessed by an enlightened cadre, it is the limitations of insurrection as a strategy for social change that strikes us. Armed insurrection was not necessary or even useful to the cause of democratic reform in Britain.
We should, of course, salute the Chartists but from a different perspective. They made bold and courageous sacrifices in the face of the determined opposition of the British state on behalf of their propertied opponents. And it is thanks to the struggles of the Chartists and of those who came after them that insurrection is more than ever a moribund revolutionary strategy. Since the late nineteenth-century the working class has possessed the political means to effect social and economic change. It is high time that we, the working class, had the confidence and knowledge to use those means for ourselves.
from here

Holiday Meditation (short story)

A Short Story from the August 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

He lay stretched out on the beach and felt the warm glow of the sun and the faint sea breeze on his skin. To his left he could hear the murmur of conversation, and in the distance the delighted shrieks of children playing on the sand and in the sea. The sea mirrored the cobalt blue sky, and the foam was white where the waves broke. An occasional gull dipped on the waves and flew off with a morsel of food. He felt that he was beginning to live. He looked searchingly at the scene before him, and sank back, closing his eyes, his thoughts lost in meditation . . . 

People seemed different on holiday: for a week or a fortnight in the year they were carefree. He contrasted in his mind the worn and worried faces that he saw in the tube trains every morning and evening going to and from work. Those deadpans were the same people who on holiday were happy. Of course, he was no different. He would have to spend a lifetime at a monotonous job, with an occasional glimpse of what life could be like. Yet no doubt a life of leisure could also be monotonous, but there were such long stretches of work ahead, and at the end of it, what?

Work seemed to crush out any creative inspirations. He smiled grimly as he recalled having escaped to Epping Forest on Saturdays with his brushes and paints in order to attempt to catch on paper the changing shades of the green foliage. Yes, it was an attempt; that is all he could say, but the effort was worth while, because it prevented him from getting into a rut—of becoming a work beast. Of having no interest in life except work.

Why was it that he hated work? He recalled that when he was young, life seemed like an adventure. Then he was fired with ambition. “Work hard, my boy, and you will reach the top of the tree,” was the advice of his father. Well, he had always worked hard . . .  He had long ago learned that efficiency did not increase his earning capacity. It is true that he had been grudgingly given a rise when he had married, but he still had only enough to eke out week by week, and this applied to the other chaps on the job. Did he hate work because a lifetime was expended doing the same routine, and of being denied the right to enjoy and have the good things of life. Or was it because of the mental conflict of holding a job he disliked, in order that he could exist. He had noticed of late that he had become more irritable. To him, his future seemed hopeless. Yet there were thousands in a similar position to him. What did they think and feel? Or had they become part of the machines they tended? This was the machine age and the machines had left their mark. This was the age of despair, and the future seemed grim and dark.

He shuddered slightly. Overhead a seagull circled and dipped and gave its strident call as if to mock him.

S. W. C.

Yemen - The suffering continues...and continues...

Ali al-Absi, a Yemeni political scientist based in Berlin, told DW that while the Saudi-led coalition is not likely targeting children outright, it has a history of striking areas which carry the potential for high numbers of civilian casualties.

"Saudi Arabia regards anything in Yemen as a legitimate target, including schools, markets, infrastructure, weddings and orphanages. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia does not seem interested in sparing civilians the scourge of war," al-Absi said. But the Yemeni scholar noted that atrocities have been committed against children on both sides of the conflict. "Even the Houthis besieged the city of Taiz and targeted civilians and children with sniper fire," he said.

More than 15,000 people have been killed and thousands more injured,  including more than 6,000 children who have been killed or injured since 2015, when Saudi Arabia launched a military offensive against the Houthis.

The US, the UK  and other Western countries have given significant support to the Saudi-led coalition through logistics, intelligence and arms sales, actions which human rights organizations say have further fueled devastation in one of the poorest countries in the world.

"There is no military solution to this conflict," said Save the Children's Krüger. "Only a political solution can bring the war to an end and reinstate peace in Yemen."

Hady Amr, a former senior diplomat for the Obama administration, told DW that the US "cannot have an effective role in brokering a solution" since it has "clearly taken sides."

"It's one of the worst places to be a child. It's probably safe to say that right now no place is safe for children in Yemen. Until the war finally comes to an end, we will continue to push forward with our humanitarian work and the delivery of humanitarian assistance," said UNICEF's  spokeswoman Juliette Touma.

China's Secret Re-Education Camps

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in review of human rights in China  voiced "deep concern" over the situation facing Muslim Uighurs in the country. Members of the Uighur community and others Muslims in China have been treated as "enemies of the state" and held in secret camps, a UN anti-discrimination body has said. 

The committee's vice-chairwoman, Gay McDougall, said credible reports suggest that China's approach to combatting religious extremism "has changed the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no rights zone." She also claimed that as many as 2 million more Uighurs in China's Xinjiang autonomous region were being forced into "political camps for indoctrination."  
 .Citing the "arbitrary and mass detention of almost one million Uighurs," committee member Fatima-Binta Victoire Dah asked the Chinese delegation: "What is the level of religious freedom now available to Uighurs in China, what legal protection exists for them to practice their religion?" 

 The Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an activist group, last month reported that 21 percent of all 2017 arrests in China were made in Xinjiang

What witch-hunt?

The drafter of what later became popularly known as the  International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, including its associated examples, was the U.S. attorney Kenneth S. Stern

According to Stern, it had originally been designed as a ”working definition” for the purpose of trying to standardise data collection about the incidence of antisemitic hate crime in different countries. It had never been intended that it be used as a legal or regulatory device to curb academic or political free speech. Yet that is how it has now come to be used.


 In the same document Stern specifically condemns as inappropriate the use of the definition for such purposes, mentioning, in particular, the curbing of free speech in UK universities, and referencing Manchester and Bristol universities as examples. 

Kenneth Stern is certainly no leftist. Nevertheless to his credit, the original author of the IHRA definition is a consistent defender of free speech who condemns the current McCarthyite-witchhunt usage of the IHRA definition.

taken from here

Friday, August 10, 2018

Eric Hobsbawm: Historian and Leninist

The death of Eric Hobsbawm on 1 October [2012] marked the end of a generation of left-wing historians who, while advancing historical materialism, rejected Marxian politics by embracing Leninism.
Prominent amongst this group were E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill and Rodney Hilton, but the list also includes Maurice Dobb, A.L. Morton, Dorothy Thompson, John Saville, Victor Kiernan, Raphael Samuel and George Rudé. They entered the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and were active in the Communist Party Historians Group. Despite their political shortcomings, in the decades following the Second World War their work was part of a challenge to the arid, high-political history of ‘great men’ that had previously dominated the academic study of history. Some went on to be active in the founding of the Society for the Study of Labour History and were part of the rise of social history ‘from below’ as an established academic subject. They produced works of historical scholarship which sometimes received a warm welcome from Socialists eager to absorb scholarship with a historical materialist perspective. Some of the work of this group of historians will continue to be a rich resource for socialists. If only they could have applied their historical materialism as rigorously to their own times as to their respective periods of study, perhaps they would not have politically affiliated to Leninism.
Hobsbawm, like many of the Communist Party historians who later rose to prominence, was radicalised during the inter-war years, pinning his hopes for the future on the Soviet Union. Nonetheless most of them left the Communist Party after the Russian repression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, already disillusioned by the dawning realisation of the horrors of Stalin’s Russia and ongoing state repression. Hobsbawm was unusual in that he did not leave the Communist Party but remained a member until its collapse and to some extent continued as an apologist for Bolshevism until his death.
Hobsbawm was no unrepentant Stalinist, being an advocate of Eurocommunism in the 1970s and a supporter of Neil Kinnock’s reform of the Labour Party in the 1980s, but he retained a sense of the Soviet Union having been a worthy experiment gone awry. In his memoirs he wrote that the “dream of the October Revolution is still there somewhere inside me . . . I have abandoned, nay, rejected it, but it has not been obliterated. To this day, I notice myself treating the memory and tradition of the USSR with an indulgence and tenderness.” (Interesting Times, p.56) In an article in the Guardian (14 September 2002) Hobsbawm said, “In the early days we knew a new world was being born amid blood and tears and horror: revolution, civil war, famine … Thanks to the breakdown of the west, we had the illusion that even this brutal, experimental, system was going to work better than the West. It was that or nothing.”
But it wasn’t that or nothing. As a member of the CPGB Hobsbawm supported the Soviet Union because it represented the hopes of those who mistakenly believed that a brutal form state capitalism could transform itself into a genuinely socialist society. As such he was an opponent of the Socialist Party, which then as now, seeks to establish socialism on the basis of real common ownership and democratic control of the means of living without a ‘transition period’ involving state capitalism. In one of his articles, originally published in New Left Review, Hobsbawm wrote on the subject of H. M. Hyndman and the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and referred to the Socialist Party of Great Britain as a “wholly irrelevant conventicle”. For a historian known for his grasp of detail, however, he wrongly stated the date of the formation of the party as 1906 instead of 1904. Doubtless this is because, like most historians who dismiss the Socialist Party out of hand, he had never taken the time to seriously examine its historical background or record.
The article went on to call for a reassessment of the SDF which had previously been scoffed at by left-wing historians. The SDF, argued Hobsbawm, had demonstrated longevity, had a proletarian character and had many left-wing workers that passed through it. It was characterised not by sectarianism but by an understandable intransigence (although, as a good Bolshevik, Hobsbawm remarks that the SDF was “quite unable to envisage … the problems of revolt or the taking of power.”). Hobsbawm’s qualified acknowledgments of the achievements of the SDF are all equally applicable to the historical place of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in British working-class political life. But one thing rules it out of contention for inclusion in the historical record of socialism in Britain for left-wing historians – it did not feed into the formation of the CPGB in 1920 but opposed it. For Hobsbawm, the SDF had historical credentials as part of a political exercise of looking for British native antecedents of the CPGB. The Socialist Party has stood for socialism as understood by Marx – non-market and non-state – and was therefore anti-Bolshevik. Because of this, the Socialist Party has been ignored or summarily dismissed by historians of communism and the labour movement who have generally been Leninist, Trotskyist or Labourite.
Disappointment with the realities of the Soviet Union led many of Hobsbawm’s contemporaries in the CPGB to ultimate political disillusionment and subsequent trajectories into other variants of left-wing politics. Whilst that generation of historians has itself become history, the Socialist Party still carries on the political task ignored by them – that of trying to begin to make the Socialist revolution that the Bolshevik revolution in Russia could never have achieved. That task necessarily involves an understanding and rejection of the strategy of the insurrectionary seizure of the state and the establishment of state capitalism as a route to Socialism. Today Socialists still have much work to do to recover the words socialism and communism from their association with state capitalism and the brutality of the political strategy supported by Hobsbawm.
CSK 1904

from here

Horses and Men (short story)

Horses and Men (1952)

A Short Story from the August 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The Manchester Guardian, in a series of articles dealing with the transport of horses for slaughter, to France and other parts of the Continent, excited a good deal of horrified attention from humanitarians and animal lovers who protested in letters to the Press and by questions in Parliament The articles described the pitiful journey of these animals in overcrowded railway trucks, and told how they were led to their death along halls filled with the smell and groans of their dying fellows. Impelled by a deep sense of gratitude at the altruistic nobility of the human beings who had espoused his cause we have received a request from a horse to publish the result of an investigation he has conducted into the lives of mankind. We do so gladly.
Altruism Unlimited
I began my investigations early one morning when, seeing huge crowds making for some stairs which seemed to lead to the bowels of the earth, I decided to follow and find out what I could. When I reached the bottom of the stairs I saw these men and women jostling each other to get to some monsters with strangely small mouths and illuminated eyes. Everyone was trying to put some pieces of metal into the monsters’ mouths and those who succeeded received what looked to be a square piece of leaf. I thought at first that 1 had stumbled across some strange religious rite, and seeing the printing on the leaf I thought it was some motto whereby the people who propitiated these monsters received absolution. After getting the pieces of leaf they made their way towards a small gate where a man in uniform whom I at first took to be an acolyte, cut pieces of leaf out with a pair of horse clippers. “Ah,” I thought, “ they are going into an inner temple.” I tried to follow but when I reached the gate the man in uniform refused to let me through. I had no pieces of metal with which to propitiate the monsters so I jumped over the barrier and found myself on a platform marked “Inner Circle.” It appeared that I had penetrated into the very holy of holies. But I found by eavesdropping that these people were all going on a journey. The train arrived and pandemonium broke loose. Pushing, shoving and wrestling, every man and woman on the platform tried their best to enter the train (I did this successfully as my four legs proved an asset.) It was so jammed that it was barely possible to move or breathe. The train started with such a jerk that we should have fallen had it not been for the fact that so crowded was it that there was no room to topple over. After a few minutes the train stopped and again pandemonium reigned. People pushed and fought to alight. Suddenly a frightening thought froze my blood. Was it possible that we were being taken to the slaughter and that that was why there was this panic. Using my four legs I made my escape and dashed furiously up into the street. I made some enquiries about these strange phenomena. What I learned filled me with wonderment. These people were not going to the slaughter but to their work.

My investigations into transport being as I thought completed I walked along the street alert for any phenomena which needed investigation. I came to a place called Victoria. In the forecourt were hundreds of men all dressed alike and being shouted at by other men with stripes on their sleeves. At the first shout the men arranged themselves briskly into long rows. Each carried a pack on his back (just like a horse) and held a long metal tube attached to a carved piece of wood, firmly against his shoulder. At another shout the men marched off and I followed. Again I found myself on a platform and again I was almost carried off my feet as the men rushed to get into the train standing alongside. Soon the train was packed with the men who were singing and whistling all sorts of tunes. The train moved off and after several hours we arrived at a quayside where we were all embarked on to a ship. It was a very rough journey and I was glad when it was over. Had I but known what was to face me my gladness might have been tempered. We were all loaded—this is a strange word which is used to describe goods being put on vehicles for transport and is also used for human beings in the same context—into huge carts drawn by mechanical monsters. The men were by this time tired and did not sing as much as when they left Victoria. After some hours of travel we heard from the distance peals of heavy thunder and saw lightning and flames leaping into the sky. We were soon in the thick of it and all the men jumped off the carts and began running for cover while huge birds dropped eggs which exploded as they fell. Men collapsed to the ground all around me with great bleeding holes in their bodies and the air was filled with the stench of blood and the groans of the dying. Terrified I hid under one of the carts. Had I been able to I would have run away. I lay there waiting for the butcher to come with his knife and carve the choicest joints from the bodies that were lying about. 1 felt sure that we had been transported for slaughter so that the meat could be sold for the benefit and profit of their masters. 1 waited for some hours but no butcher arrived. Only men carrying litters on to which they loaded the bodies and moved them into white trucks with red crosses painted on them. I was told afterwards that these trucks should never be molested out of respect for the dead and dying. It appears that among human beings the living get no respect or consideration.

By the intervention of providence I made my escape and found myself back in England. For days thereafter I could not speak of my adventures so stunned was I by what I had seen. Human beings were protesting vigorously at the treatment meted out to horses and here were human beings treated almost in the same way.

I recovered my composure and by dint of much enquiry discovered that what I had seen was an almost regular occurrence in some part or other of the Globe. Men called it war. The dead bodies were not eaten, for this, I was told, would be immoral and cannibalistic. They were either buried or left to rot

My horse friends with whom I discussed this would not believe me. One suggested, and this seemed the most popular belief, that I had mistaken jackasses for human beings. But my oldest friend agreed with me when I insisted I was not mistaken. “You can’t be wrong,” he neighed, “it couldn’t have been jackasses. Only human beings could invent such things."

With this I concluded my investigation into the life of human beings, and I am more than ever convinced that Man is the “noblest work of God.” For who other than noble unselfish creatures would concern themselves with the sufferings of others when they themselves were subjected to the same treatment. There are many other facets of human life I would like to investigate and perhaps at some later date you will give me the courtesy of your columns in which I could publish the results of my enquiries.

A. Sarna.

Billionaires deserting the UK

 Just two months after he was knighted by the Queen for “services to business and investment”, Jim Ratcliffe, the founder and chief executive of petrochemicals company Ineos and a high-profile Brexiter, is preparing to move to the tax-free principality on the Côte d’Azur in order to avoid UK taxes on his vast wealth. His fortune is estimated at £21bn.
Ratcliffe was ranked the UK’s richest person in May after he contacted the editor of the Sunday Times rich list to complain that his wealth had been drastically underestimated. The list increased its estimate of his wealth by £15.3bn to £21bn after he provided access to the privately held accounts of Ineos, which he founded in 1998. The newspaper also increased its valuation of his mansion near Beaulieu, in the New Forest, and his two superyachts, called Hampshire and Hampshire II. The reassessment catapulted Ratcliffe from 18th to first place in the list. 
Ratcliffe owns 60% of Ineos, which made profits of more than £2.2bn last year and employs 18,500 people. His top two lieutenants at Ineos, Andy Currie and John Reece, each own 20% of the company worth £7bn – making them the joint-16th richest people in the UK. Both men are reportedly considering following Ratcliffe to Monaco. 
Ratcliffe has quit Britain before. He moved Ineos to Switzerland in 2010 in protest against the then Labour government’s tax regime. The relocation saved an estimated €450m (£405m) in tax. He then moved the company back to the UK in 2016 after the Conservatives returned to power and cut corporation tax from 28% to 20%.
Nearly 35 in every 100 of Monaco’s residents are millionaires.

Dying younger - A silver lining for some

Britain’s pension providers are enjoying a £1bn bonanza from the worsening outlook for life expectancy, as they book large profits from people who are dying unexpectedly early.

Legal & General, which manages pensions for 1.1 million people, said that changes in mortality rates will allow it to release between £300m and £400m during 2018. Chief executive Nigel Wilson said: “People are not living anywhere near as long as anyone thought they would.”  L&G said: “We continue to see evidence of higher than expected mortality. In 2017, our mortality analyses resulted in a pre-tax release of £332m of prudence within our reserves. “At this stage in our review of the 2016 mortality tables, we anticipate a £300m to £400m release to be recognised in our 2018 full year results.”

UK’s biggest life insurer Aviva said the changes had allowed it to reduce longevity reserves by £290m, while Standard Life Aberdeen reported a £79m boost in February. As more insurers release reserves, the total gain is likely to far exceed £1bn.

Pension companies have sold annuities (a guaranteed income for life) to around 5 million people at retirement on the basis of assumptions about rising longevity. In turn, they hold reserves to cover these guarantees. But as gains in life expectancy have failed to materialise, those reserves are now being returned to shareholders or reinvested.  

Since 2010, Britons’ life expectancy has stopped increasing, with the change most pronounced in women.


Star Wars 2

Trump is a proven serial treaty-breaker and the latest example is his proposal for an American Space Force to be up and running by 2020.  “We must have American dominance in space," Trump said

Vice President Mike Pence revealed some of the details. A U.S. Space Command will “develop the space war fighting doctrine, tactics, techniques.” A military astronaut corps, which Pence called "an elite group of joint war fighters specializing in the domain of space." will be established. A Space Development Agency, will develop new technologies to "ensure cutting-edge war-fighting capabilities."

Naturally, the US pretends its policy is defensive, after all, the original name of the Department of Defense was the Department of War which made it sound far too belligerent and bellicose.

 Article IV of the OST states that:
" Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies or station weapons in outer space in any other manner. The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used … exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden…"

 But it has a weakness: it allows ‘use of military personnel for scientific research or for other peaceful purposes.’ Defining ‘peaceful purpose’ activities isn’t easy. There have been attempts to expand the Outer Space Treaty to ban all weapons from space. This is called the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) treaty and leading in urging its passage have been Canada, Russia, and China. There has been virtually universal backing from nations around the world. But U.S. administration after administration have refused to back the PAROS treaty preventing its passage.

In 1982, a committee of Congress urged the creation of an “aerospace force” or “space force” to develop “laser battle stations in space” while Ronald Reagan called for the Strategic Defense Initiative, “Star Wars.” (It never got further than the research stage.) Air Force Space Command, General John W. “Jay” Raymond, said last year that space is “a war-fighting domain and we need to treat it as such.” A U.S. Space Command was formed in 1982. “U.S Space Command—dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment. Integrating Space Forces into war-fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict,” it declared in its report “Vision for 2020.”


Ryanair is facing legal claims from unions for allegedly violating labour laws during a row with striking workers, as the airline faces a new round of industrial action that could affect its low-cost business model.
Ryanair pilots in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden are due to hold 24-hour strikes on Friday over terms and conditions. The airline has cancelled about 400 flights as a result. 
Ryanair faces renewed pressure from unhappy workers after it agreed to recognise trade unions for pilots and cabin crew in December – something the chief executive, Michael O’Leary, had previously said he would rather cut off his hands than agree to. Strikes were partly to blame for profits falling in the first quarter of its financial year.
But after making deals with unions in countries including the UK and Italy, the airline has failed to engage with workers, unions claim. Pilots and cabin crew have responded with a string of strikes seeking better terms and conditions. Cabin staff in Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain walked out for 48 hours last month.
Until recently, Ryanair was able to divide its workforce by striking different deals across the countries it flies between.
Ryanair responded to strikes in Ireland by issuing redundancy notices to 300 staff in Dublin last month and shifting some planes from Ireland to Poland. Soon afterward, O’Leary said: “If we have people who just want to have strikes for the sake of having strikes then they can have strikes and they’ll find themselves with jobs getting moved and aircraft getting moved.”
Unions have alleged Ryanair is using other tactics to deter workers from striking. While most EU countries allow companies to dock pay from striking staff, union sources said Ryanair threatened to strip crew of productivity bonuses and warned that their promotion chances would be affected, which would be in breach of labour laws. The Independent Transport Workers Federation (ITF), an umbrella body for trade unions, said Ryanair could be hit with lawsuits for allegedly breaching labour laws in several countries.
“Unions in countries directly affected by all the latest actions against Ryanair workers are pursuing a mixture of legal claims and investigations with the appropriate government agencies,” said ITF’s general secretary, Stephen Cotton. “They are having to claim once again that Ryanair are infringing their members’ fundamental rights in breach of labour laws in their country.”

Killing Kids is Legitimate and Humanitarian

29 children have been killed and 30 wounded in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Yemen, the International Committee of the Red Cross says.

The health ministry run by the rebel Houthi movement put the death toll at 43, and said 61 people were wounded.

Save the Children said it had been told by its staff that the children were on their way back to school from a picnic when the driver of their bus stopped to get a drink. Save the Children described the incident as "horrific"

 The secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland called it a "grotesque, shameful" attack that showed "blatant disregard for rules of war".

The Saudi Arabian-led coalition spokesman Col Turki al-Malki said the attack was "a legitimate military action, conducted in conformity with international humanitarian law".

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Reform or Revolution – Then and Now

The Socialist League was a breakaway from the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), which was established in the 1880s by William Morris, Eleanor Marx, Edward Aveling and other pioneering socialists. However its confused position on parliament and the ballot box despite its correct opposition to campaigning for reforms led to it being overrun by anarchists and to the resignation of socialists such as Morris.
The strategy of Morris and the others was the “making” of socialists who understood and wanted an end to capitalism and wanted the establishment of a socialist society. This ran counter to the object both of anarchists who simply wanted to destroy the state, and of those “socialists” who wanted to concentrate on building a large party with its roots in the trade unions which could somehow reform capitalism out of existence. Some fourteen years after the Socialist League was overrun by anarchists in 1890, the Socialist Party of Great Britain was founded. Like the League, it was a breakaway from the SDF but, while echoing the League’s call for revolution and nothing less, addressed the issues which had led to the League’s failure.
Revolution not Reform
The Socialist League was founded in 1884 after the resignation of a number of socialists from the SDF which had taken the position of working gradually for socialism through the winning of reforms, so-called stepping stones to socialism. Disgruntled with the undemocratic nature of H.M. Hyndman’s leadership and seeing the absurdity and inevitable failure of trying to change capitalism and its essential profit-making drive through legal changes, William Morris, Eleanor Marx, Edward Aveling, Belfort Bax and others established a separate body committed to socialism and nothing less. Morris wrote:
“The palliatives over which many worthy people are busying themselves now are useless because they are but unorganised partial revolts against a vast wide-spreading, grasping organisation which will, with the unconscious instinct of a plant, meet every attempt to bettering the conditions of the people with an attack on a fresh side.”
The Manifesto of the Socialist League, drafted by Morris and Bax and adopted in 1885, stated firmly the stance of the League against reformism and for social revolution and nothing else:
“As to mere politics, Absolutism, Constitutionalism, Republicanism. All have been tried in our day and under our present system, and all have failed in dealing with the real evils of life.
Nor, on the other hand, will certain incomplete schemes of social reform now before the public solve the question.
Co-operation so-called—that is, competitive co-operation for profit—would merely increase the number of small joint-stock capitalists, under the mask of creating an aristocracy of labour, while it would intensify the severity of labour by its temptations to overwork.
Nationalisation of the land alone, which many earnest and sincere persons are now preaching, would be useless so long as labour was subject to the fleecing of surplus value inevitable under the Capitalist system.
No better solution would be that State Socialism, by whatever name it may be called, whose aim it would be to make concessions to the working class while leaving the present system of capital and wages in operation: no number of merely administrative changes; until the workers are in a possession of all political power, would make any real approach to Socialism.
The Socialist League therefore aims at the realisation of complete Revolutionary Socialism, and well knows that this can never happen in any one country without the help of the workers of all civilisation.”
After a century and more of failed attempts at reforming capitalism, the position of Morris and the League has been proved correct, as has its position against what they called “state socialism” (more accurately described as state capitalism) which has only succeeded in dividing the working class.
The Ballot Box
The League, however, was opposed to the idea of achieving socialism via the ballot box and parliament. This was not on the grounds of wanting to lead the working class to revolution in the belief that a socialist majority could never exist, but on the grounds that campaigning for election to parliament inevitably meant advocating reforms of the present system. This mistaken conclusion was drawn due to the number of so-called socialists in this period who were turning away from social revolution and towards gradualism. Parliament, according to the League, was a capitalist institution which would only be strengthened by reformist policies and which would subvert a socialist party from a body which campaigned for social revolution to a corrupt body which would inevitably campaign for election on a reformist programme. Even so, Morris did envisage that, at some stage, socialists would enter parliament as rebels to dissolve capitalist power:
“I believe that the Socialists will certainly send members to Parliament when they are strong enough to do so; in itself I see no harm in that, so long as it is understood that they go there as rebels, and not as members of the governing body prepared to pass palliative measures to keep Society alive.”
It was its opposition to the use of elections by connecting them to the policy of reformism which was the weak link in the League’s armour. Opposition to parliament and elections led to the increasing membership of anarchists, who saw the problems of society not as connected to capitalism but to the institution of the state itself. They did not seek to remove capitalism (the disease) by making socialists but sought to destroy the state and authority (the symptom) by acts of violence. It was this section of the League which grew in strength and eventually displaced the genuine pioneer socialists who had established an organisation and produced literature which still remain an inspiration to socialists today. It has to be said, however, that many of these pioneer socialists were beginning to turn to gradualism themselves, as the working class seemingly turned to this course (but in reality only opting for small improvements now rather than any conscious socialist idea).
The Socialist League collapsed in the early 1890s with the departure of William Morris in 1890 (who formed the Hammersmith Socialist Society). After this its publication Commonweal, with the party in general, declined to an ignominious mess after control passed to the anarchists whose squabbles were an irrelevance to the working class.
Thus, the voice of socialism (despite the League’s few inconsistencies) was lost until the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904 and its solving of the problems of earlier socialists. Formed after a group of socialists grew disillusioned with the reformist stance of the SDF (as the League pioneers had been twenty years earlier), the Socialist Party solved the problem of reform or revolution by a unique commitment to the use of the ballot box and the democratic sending of socialists to parliament with the sole aim of abolishing the profit system; a possible socialist minority in parliament being committed to opposition to all policies that would help prolong capitalism.
The Socialist Party has stood for socialism and nothing but ever since. A bastion of socialist consciousness in a political wilderness of capitalist party against capitalist party; free market or nationalisation, private ownership or state ownership, left or right, tweedledum or tweedledee. Capitalism is capitalism whichever mask it is attempting to wear and the Socialist Party is the only party to have stood for socialism throughout the twentieth century despite the diversions of Lenin, Keynesians and a host of others attempting to change capitalism without a socialist majority that understands and desires it. Capitalism’s appearance may have changed in the last hundred years but no amount of tinkering can change the essential labour-fleecing and profit-seeking which makes it tick and which socialists understand must be removed before socialism can exist.
CSK 1904
From here