Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Inequality Trend

  • Over the last 37 years, America’s top 10 percent saw their incomes rise by 115 percent and the top 1 percent saw an incredible rise of 198 percent. Meanwhile, the bottom half of all American earners not only failed to see any gain at all, but their incomes actually declined by 1 percent from 1978 to 2015, according to research by Thomas Piketty. 

  • During the Obama years "the top 1 percent of families captured 52 percent of total real income growth per family from 2009 to 2015 while the bottom 99 percent of families got only 48 percent of total real income growth," reports inequality expert, Emanuel Saez

A team of researchers led by Raj Chetty and David Grusky of Stanford University used data from federal income tax returns and U.S. Census and Current Population Surveys to look at trends of this "absolute mobility," or earning more than one's parents. What they found was a dramatic decline over the past several decades. While nearly all—over 90 percent—of children born in 1940 were able to earn more than their parents, that figure drops to 50 percent for children born in the 1980s.

Yemen - Where is the urgency?

 After two years of civil war, the World Food Programme says the country is on the brink of famine.
The sheer scale of the deprivation is staggering: of Yemen's 25.6 million people, almost 19 million are in urgent need of assistance, the UN says.
Almost seven million are "severely food insecure", meaning they need food aid immediately. Two million children are acutely malnourished.
"The situation is nothing short of catastrophic," says Robert Mardini, who is director of Middle East operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and has recently returned from Yemen.
Less than half Yemen's hospitals are functioning at all, and those that are face daily shortages of staff, medicines, and electricity.
 Despite repeated warnings about a potential disaster in Yemen, the UN's appeal for $2.1bn to bring relief is only 15% funded. 
The key port of Hudaydah, which aid agencies describe as "a lifeline" for Yemen, is now virtually closed, due to a partial blockade by coalition forces, and the destruction of cranes in air strikes. This means that about only 30% of the supplies Yemen needs are getting into the country at all.
Unicef has calculated that a child is dying every 10 minutes from a preventable illness.
"A malnourished child is nine times more likely to die from a preventable illness than one which is properly nourished," explains Christophe Boulierac of the UN children's agency Unicef. "We have got to raise awareness of the terrible impact this conflict is having."

The Cuts are Hurting

English councils’ spending on neighbourhood services, such as bins, planning, potholes and leisure, has fallen by more than £3bn in the past five years, a report, published by the benchmarking group, the Association for Public Service Excellence (Apse), found. 

The most deprived council areas have seen the biggest falls in spending in these services – up to 22% on average over five years among the most deprived fifth of authorities, compared with just 5% among the wealthiest.

The poorest areas had an especially sharp spending fall in, for example, food and water safety inspection, road safety and school crossings, community centres and services aimed at cutting crime – such as CCTV – and support for local bus services. There were wide variations across the country, with some councils cutting neighbourhood services by 40% while others have increased these budgets by 20%. The cuts to neighbourhood services have taken place against a backdrop of unprecedented cuts in local government spending as a share of the economy. In 2010-11, it accounted for 8.4% of the economy, falling to 6.7% by 2015-16. By 2020-21, it will be down to 5.7%, a 60-year low, the report says. Although much of the political focus of local government cuts has been on social care services, the impact on neighbourhood services, which include highways and transport, cultural services, environmental services and planning, has been far greater, the report says.

One member expressed his dismay that he no longer had the staff to maintain some verges in his area, which had become overgrown, but that within the context of austerity these overgrown verges were the price to pay for ensuring that a vulnerable person in the area would receive the support they required,” it says.

Apse chief executive Paul O’Brien said: “While many are terming the forthcoming general election as the ‘Brexit election’, we can’t afford to ignore the bread and butter neighbourhood issues. In eight years, local government spending will have dropped from two thirds of that of central government’s to half. There is a slow but very harmful dismantling of neighbourhood services that marks a profound change in what local public services our communities can expect to receive. From emptying bins to running swimming pools to providing high quality local parks, spending on these services which communities really value has been cut harder and faster than any other area of public service spend. Centrally driven austerity has fallen hardest on local shoulders.”

Our candidate for Guildford West, Adam Buick, made this comment some days ago which is totally relevant:
The main issue facing Surrey County Council is a lack of funds to provide decent care for the elderly and vulnerable but also to even keep the street lights on. Most of its funding comes from central government, and the “Great Recession” following the “Crash of 2008” required the government to cut back on its spending to relieve the pressure on profits. These cuts have now trickled down to local level. That’s why capitalism is to blame.”

This is socialist democracy

Socialism is almost globally misunderstood and misrepresented. People tend to accept as true the things they hear over and over again. But repetition doesn't make things true. Because the truth and the facts often contradict "common knowledge", socialists have to show that "common knowledge" is wrong. The task of capitalist ideology is to maintain the veil which keeps people from seeing reality. The task of the Socialist Party is to lift the curtain and expose the truth.

The simplest definition of democracy is that it is decision-making by the whole people involving procedures such as free and open debate, free access to information, one person one vote, and the accountability of public officials and elected representatives. Such a decision-making system can be regarded as desirable because one key aspect of the nature of human beings is their ability to reflect and weigh up options before deciding what to do. In other words, a system in which the people as a whole freely decide what to do is the only decision-making system worthy of humans as self-determining ("free") agents. The idea of democracy is also bound up with that of equality, if only in the sense that it is a decision-making procedure in which every human deemed capable of making a reasoned decision has a vote of equal weight. Ensuring each person an equal as possible say in the decision-making process requires a high degree of social equality and not mere equal political rights. 

Democracy’ under capitalism is different from the generally accepted meaning of the word as a situation where ordinary people make the decisions that shape their lives, frequently summarised as being the ‘rule of the people.’ But democracy is not simply about ‘who’ makes decisions or ‘how’ the decisions are to be made. It is an expression of the social relations in society. If democracy means that all have equal opportunity to be heard, then this not only implies political equality but also economic equality. It further presupposes that people have individual freedom. A genuine democracy is, therefore, one where people are free and equal, actively participating, without leaders, in co-operative discussion to reach common agreement on all matters relating to their collective as well as individual requirements. We are told we are ‘free’ but in reality, our only freedom is to sell our labour power to someone who is ‘free’ to buy it – or not, as the case may be. If we choose not to exercise this freedom then we are ‘free’ to go without or even starve. It is quickly apparent that in capitalism freedom is an illusion because freedom cannot exist when the conditions for the exercise of free choice do not exist.
Democracy is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, and for us that end is socialism. Democratic organisation and methods are not just one among many possible means to establish a democratic society; they are the only such means. Democracy, in essence, is simple and easily understood. Democracy reveals all the evidence and enables informed discussion and requires inclusion for all in decisions. Democracy’s responsibility is to every member of the world community. The election of a majority of socialist delegates will not be an instruction to them from the whole population to go on running capitalism. It will be an instruction, first, to take control of the armed forces of the state so that they cannot be used against the people. Secondly, it will be an instruction to enact legislation transferring the ownership and control of all companies producing, distributing and administering society's goods and services into the hands of the whole of society. Once this is done, the job of socialist delegates to parliaments and other democratic assemblies will be complete. Their tasks will be at an end and they will return to ordinary life. Socialist delegates will not be observing parliament's meaningless rituals. When there is a majority of socialist delegates there will be no Queen's Speech, no White Papers nor any of the other shams that pass for democracy today. Just the historic announcement that capitalism has been abolished and that, henceforth, real participative democracy in the administration of social affairs, at local, regional and world levels, will obtain. As the old regime is abolished, the new, really democratic, social order, discussed and planned for so long beforehand, will come into operation. Everyone will know what to expect and what is expected of them. Objectors will be allowed to state their objections and try to get support for whatever Ideas they have. What they will not be allowed to do is disrupt industrial processes or social arrangements just because they feel like it.

The organisation and day-to-day running of socialist society will be a completely separate issue. It will have been discussed and planned at great length by everybody before the actual take-over of power takes place. Although people in different areas of the world may choose different patterns of democracy to implement their wishes, they will all be keen to maintain control over the production and distribution of products and services that affect everyone's life. If democracy is to mean more than one vote nationally and another regionally every few years then an alternative system must be devised. An alternative system involving the general public in all decisions which impact upon them, their communities and local environments, one which embraces the notion that all are entitled to be active participants in the local and global community.

A socialist society will be one in which all people will be free to participate fully in the process of making and implementing policy. What has been decided by democratic majority can only be altered by majority decision. We are not looking for "nice" leaders or any kind of leaders for the workers to follow. The essence of democracy is popular participation, not competing parties. In socialism, elections will not be about deciding which particular party is to come to ‘power’ and form the government. Politics in socialism will not be about coercive power and its exercise and so won't really be politics at all in its present-day sense of the ‘art and practice of government’ or ‘the conduct of state affairs’. Being a classless society of free and equal men and women, socialism will not have a coercive state machine nor a government to control it. The conduct of public affairs in socialism will be about people participating in the running of their lives in a non-antagonistic context of co-operation to further the common good. Socialist democracy will be a participatory democracy rather than the choice every four or five years, with or without proportional representation, between rival bands of professional politicians that pass for democracy today. Whether decisions about constructing a new playground or the need to improve fish stocks in the North Sea everyone everywhere will be able to voice their opinion and cast their vote. The traditional image of huge crowds with their hands up in council meetings, or queues of people lining up to put a piece of paper in a box, is obviously becoming old-fashioned, even in capitalism. The practical ramifications of this democratic principle could be enormous. If people feel obliged to opine and vote on every matter of policy they would have little time to do anything else. On the other hand, leaving the decision-making process to a system of elected executive groups or councils could be seen as going against the principle of fully participatory democracy. If socialism is going to maintain the practice of inclusive decision making (which does not put big decisions in the hands of small groups) but without generating a crisis of choice, then a solution is required. Technology cannot resolve issues of responsibility, but any system, computer software or not, which helps reduce the potential burden of decision making to manageable levels would. it seems unlikely that an appearance of greater participation will actually translate into genuine participation, given that capitalism is only interested in giving us a say when the issue at stake doesn’t really matter. Nonetheless, capitalism’s drive to make its democratic forms look more participatory may be doing socialism’s work for it, so that in the future the technology to debate, dispute, appeal, complain, conference and vote will all be in place - at the touch of a phone button.

We propose different scales of social co-operation such as local, regional and world scales, this is not a question of there being a hierarchy of power located at any central point. What we anticipate is both an integrated and flexible system of democratic organisation which could be adapted for action to solve any proh1em in any of these scales. This simply takes into account that some problems and the action to solve them arise from local issues and this also extends to the regional and world spheres. How would democracy be fulfilled in socialism? This requires the abolition of the state and its replacement by a system of democratic administration. This can only work from a basis of common ownership and production solely for use. Common ownership means that all people throughout the world will stand in equal relationship with each other. This will be an association of all men and women making the decisions and co-operating to produce goods and organise communities in their mutual interests. The democratic organisation of all people as citizens of the world would need to operate through different scales of social co-operation. Locally, in town or country, we would be involved with our parish or neighbourhood. Even now, there are many thousands of men and women throughout the country who work voluntarily on parish and district councils and in town neighbourhoods for the benefit of their communities. But these efforts would be greatly enhanced by the freedoms of a society run entirely through voluntary co-operation. Such local organisation would be in the context of regional co-operation which could operate by adapting the structures of present national governments. Whilst some departments such as those for administering tax and state finances, which are essential to the state would be abolished, others like Agriculture and the Environment could have an important job to do, especially in the early days of socialism. Such structures—adapted to the needs of socialist society—could be part of regional councils and would assist in the work of implementing the decisions of regional populations. During the early days of socialism, it is likely that the organisation of world co-operation would need to take place through a world council. Because the things we need now are produced and distributed through a world structure of production, and because its present capitalist nature has brought about immense problems, action to solve them would be required on a world scale, For example, it would be a priority to set up an ecologically benign world energy system as soon as possible. Such world projects could be coordinated through appropriate departments of a world council.

The latest in new technology gives the opportunity for the population to keep themselves better informed and to take a more active role in decisions than at any time since the small city-states of ancient Greece. We have at our disposal today the very means, in the form of modern telecommunications, that could enable us to resuscitate the ancient model of Athenian democracy on a truly global level. What we conspicuously lack is the will and the imagination to look beyond. The managerial system which now dictates how production units such as factories or services should be run would be replaced. Small units could be run by regular meetings of all the workers. In the cases of large organisations these could be run by elected committees accountable to the people working in them. In this way, democratic practice would apply not just to the important policy decisions that would steer the main direction of development, it would extend to the day-to-day activities of the workplace.

Democratic control will involve the whole community in making decisions about the use of the means of production. Instead of government over people, there would be various levels of democratic administration, from the local up to regional and world levels, with responsibility being delegated if necessary to groups and individuals. But this does not rule out local democracy. In fact, a democratic system of decision-making would require that the basic unit of social organisation would be the local community. However, the nature of some of the problems we face and the many goods and services presently produced, such as raw materials, energy sources, agricultural products, world transport and communications, need production and distribution to be organised at a world level. Corresponding to this, of course, there would be a need for a democratic world administration, controlled by delegates from the regional and local levels of organisation throughout the world.

Our aim is not just common ownership; it is a democracy. Democracy is not an optional extra or simply a means to an end. It is part of our end, as can be read in our Object. We define Socialism as "...common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth..." What do we mean by democracy? Amongst other things, a world in which people are not bossed around by a government or told what to do by their "superiors". More positively, a world where everyone takes an equal and responsible part in making decisions which affect society, without the strife which is inevitable in a class-divided society. That is one reason why we say there will be no socialist society until a majority desire it. As long as most people are content to be told what to do by elected representatives there will be no democracy in the sense defined. Not that an electoral system is completely worthless. The Socialist Party asserts that to secure the political power of the proletariat the only sure way to do this was through the ballot box and with his earlier rejection of campaigning for reforms. They adopted the policy of trying to gain control of the machinery of government through the ballot box by campaigning on an exclusively socialist programme without seeking support on a policy of reforms; while supporting parliamentary action they refused to advocate reforms. This has remained our policy to this day.

Socialism and democracy are complementary, indivisible. A society where the means of production were formally the common property of society but where only a minority took part in deciding how they should be used would be one in which "common property" was merely a fiction since in practice the means of production would be the sectional possession of the decision-making minority. In the end, the only guarantee in socialist society against the emergence of a new ruling class which would negate the common ownership of the means of production is people using the democratic institutions—the actual democratic participation of all the people in the running of society. This is why it is absolutely essential that those who establish socialism—the majority working class who will constitute also the major part of the people of socialist society—must be fully aware of its implications, being prepared and organised to participate not only in its establishment but also in its subsequent running.

Election Address

From the April 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fellow Workers...

You are interested in what are known as "bread and butter" questions. As a worker, you have to be. Doubtless, you are interested in politics as well. You should be. Because politics and bread and butter questions are closely bound up with each other—in fact, they cannot be separated.

Low Wages—High Prices—Unemployment
to mention only a few, are still the burning questions of the day. We say “still,” because they were the burning questions half a century ago. Political parties then promised immediate remedies if returned to office. Half a century of failure will not prevent them from again announcing immediate remedies to cure these evils—next time.

Political parties have their pet schemes which they claim will solve your problems. The Liberals say "Free Trade," the Tories “Protection" and the Labour Party point to ”Nationalisation” as the way out. You have tried the first two, and are now being persuaded to try the third. But even if you do, we say it will leave you in exactly the same position of insecurity and poverty.

Why Is This?
It is because these “remedies” do not touch the root cause of your troubles. It is the cause that must be understood first. The remedy must follow. This you will agree, is sound commonsense. Let us apply it, then.

At present, your only means of getting a living is your job. But, strictly speaking, “your" job is not yours: it belongs to those who give you your wage-packet, the employing or capitalist class, and they can take it away when it suits them. They are in a position to do this because they not only have the means to pay wages, but they also own the places where the job is carried on, and all the necessary things for it, the machinery, raw materials, etc. The only thing in all this which does belong to the workers is the energies they sell in return for wages, and the amount in the packet is the market price of those energies—about enough, on an average, to keep the worker in working condition. But the wealth the workers produce is more than they take home. What is left behind belongs to the capitalist. This, after paying all other expenses, is his profit. This profit is the sole reason for turning out goods, and how much of this profit the state of the market will allow will decide how much wealth is to be produced, will decide whether you work overtime, short time, or no time at all, and whether, at different periods, your wage packet is a little bigger, a little smaller, or there is no wage packet.

This, then, is why the workers are poor— because the greater portion of what they produce is transferred to the pockets of those who own the means of living. It is the ownership alone that gives this privilege to a small minority of people. That is why for them there are country houses, yachts, costly food and expensive clothes, and for you—jerry-built houses, shoddy clothing, and cheap food. What is more, you live all the time in uncertainty, insecurity, and strain. This condition for the workers is a perpetual one because the capitalist is always seeking means to increase his profit. He can only do this by increasing the output of the workers, and labour-saving machinery, cut rates, speed-up, are the results. Relatively fewer workers are required to produce existing requirements. The workers who are no longer required are forced to look for another job, and their competition for jobs is a constant threat to the wages and conditions of those in work. From time to time, as a result of this frenzied rush for profit, a crisis occurs, and there follows more unemployment, less wages, and greater insecurity than ever.

You can see that under the present scheme the capitalists and the workers obtain their living in totally different ways: one by property, the other by working; one by buying labour-power, the other by selling it, if he can. This opposition of interests between worker and capitalist is inseparable from capitalism, and for that reason, all the efforts of other political parties to solve the evils arising from these conditions are rendered futile.

Have We a Remedy?
Our answer is that we have the only remedy to cure these bread and butter problems of yours, and ours. Perhaps you don’t believe it? You may well be doubtful. For over fifty years politicians have come, promised, and gone their ways, leaving only high prices, low wages, unemployment, and the shadow of war. May ours not be just another story of claiming to succeed where the other fellow has failed? you may ask. We hope you do. Because it is the purpose of this letter to show just how the Socialist Party of Great Britain differs from all other political parties. Our proposals do not consist of pet schemes, immediate remedies, or fancy slogans dealing only with effects and leaving causes untouched. What we say is this: You cannot plan prosperity under a system in which the privilege of the few rests upon the poverty and exploitation of the many. And because all other parties accept this system as the basis of their schemes they fail and must fail.

The Plan of the Socialist Party of Great Britain has as its first step the removal of these conditions and replacing them by conditions which will make it possible for the problems of the workers to be completely solved. The capitalist system (the private ownership of the means of living) must go, we say. Its place must be taken by a system of common ownership, based on production for use only. This remedy is the only one worthwhile for the workers. Nothing, we say, can be accomplished until this is done.

Let us test it. Take unemployment. Why can’t the whole of the unemployed be re-absorbed into industry? With the ample means at our disposal, they could be set to work producing not only for themselves but for others. Thus everybody would benefit because more wealth would be produced. But, as we have seen, the taking away of jobs, as well as the giving of them, is essential for a profit-making system. That is why political parties who accept and work within the present order can only suggest doles, and pious hopes for better times. Only in a system of production for use will unemployment be banished, because the good of all being the common end, it will be to the advantage of all to have all taking part in producing goods and services. The fear of losing your job, the constant dread of millions, cannot arise under Socialism. Your job will, at last, be your job because it will be a part of the community ownership in which you have an equal voice. The drudgery and monotony of present-day work, carried out under orders, will be replaced by responsibility and interest because you will then have a voice in what is produced and the conditions in which it will take place. The workers' standard of living under Socialism will not be based on the thing necessary for mere working efficiency because there will be no surplus going to an idle and useless section. Workers will enjoy what the resources of society are capable of supplying.

The programmes of other political parties are unable to guarantee you this because all other political parties are concerned with the interests of the profit-makers or owners. They have not altered, and cannot alter, the amazing contrast between riches and poverty. The only things they have to offer are tide-overs for your poverty in the shape of doles, pensions, free medical services, etc.

In contrast to the futile reforms of other political parties, Socialism is the Remedy for which the S.P.G.B. seeks the support and understanding of the working class and offers itself as a means by which the workers, through the ballot box, can obtain political power for this purpose. Since 1904, when this Party was founded, Socialism has been our sole aim, and for that reason we are opposed to all other political parties.

Now you have read this letter we ask you to think over our proposals. Compare what other parties say about your conditions with what we say about them. Ask yourself: Does our examination of existing things square with your everyday experiences? Is our plan one that meets your real needs? If, a
fter reflection, you are inclined to I agree, learn more about THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN.

Hungry School-kids

Going hungry in the school holidays is a growing problem for up to three million UK children, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger warnsToo many children return to school malnourished, sluggish and dreary, says the report. They are often weeks or months intellectually behind their better-off classmates who have a more wholesome diet during the holidays
According to the report, children at risk of holiday hunger include an estimated:
  • One million growing up in poverty who receive free school meals during term time
  • Two million whose parents are on low wages but do not qualify for free school meals
For both groups, school holidays place extra burdens on family budgets in terms of food, fuel, activities and childcare. It claims the loss of free school meals adds between £30 and £40 per week to parents' outgoings for one child. Parents working on zero-hours contracts were said to be particularly vulnerable to the higher costs of childcare.
In the "fifth richest country in the world, too many children are stalked by hunger," said committee chairman Frank Field in his foreword, describing the evidence as "staggering". he said "abolishing hunger during school holidays is beyond the ability of individual community groups and volunteers alone".
Dr Philippa Whitford, a vice chair of the group, said that losing access to free school meals during the holidays could "simply be the final straw which overwhelms some families' ability to keep their children fed and, particularly, nourished. Hidden hunger does not just result in underweight children... those who are eating a stodgy low-protein diet, with no fresh fruit or vegetables, can end up both obese and yet malnourished," she said.

Fast Fashion

Fashion has played a fundamental role in the social, cultural, and biological identity of our civilisation.  The phenomenon of low-cost and instantly available clothes, which has cynically been named "the democratization of fashion," is both a social and ecological disaster. Although it has given people in developed countries the possibility to wear watered-down runway fashions for a fraction of the designer price tag, the overproduction required to constantly satisfy consumers has also severely impacted tens of millions of people in the rest of the world.
"The problem is the ever-increasing demand for fast fashion. Fast fashion will never be sustainable as its business model is based on producing huge volumes, incredibly quickly, very cheaply so that we can buy more clothes," said Livia Firth, founder and creative director of Eco Age, in a "Business of Fashion" survey about fast fashion. The lives the industry employs have become just as disposable as the collections it churns out.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, killed 1,129 garment factory workers. The truth is that very little has been done in spite of various promises made after Rana Plaza. Amy Hall, director of social consciousness at Eileen Fisher, added that "very little has substantively changed for the factory workers. Wages are still obscenely low, hours obscenely high, and overall transparency unbearably murky."

According to a recent study by Sarah Labowitz and Dorothée Baumann-Pauly published by New York University's Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, 3,425 inspections have taken place since October 2015 in Bangladesh, for example - but only eight factories passed them.

"There are two reasons why so few factories are successfully being fixed. First, the most essential upgrades to make factories safer, such as electrical improvements and moving to purpose-built facilities, are expensive," says the research, estimating the average cost of remediation to $250,000 - $350,000 (230,000 - 322,000 euros) per factory. The second reason, according to the research, is that brands see it as the suppliers' responsibility to pay for these expensive factory repairs.

Chains such as Primark, Zara, or H&M are not the only ones to outsource their production. According to the "Wall Street Journal," about 20 percent of all goods by Prada, the leading Italian luxury brand, are made in China, and several lines by Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and other expensive names are produced in Cambodia and Romania, among others.

Low wages, hazardous conditions, poor legislation, a lack of transparency in production lines and the brands' denied responsibility are not only characteristic for the industry in Bangladesh, however. On April 1, for example, a factory in Karachi, Pakistan, caught fire, and just two weeks later, an explosion in an unregistered sweatshop killed two in Cambodia.

The photographer Jost Franko's describes how the failures of the garment industry are systematic. In 2015 and 2016, Franko visited Bangladesh and Burkina Faso but also Romania, and his experience was similar in all countries. "Employees in the garment sector are one of the lowest paid workers in the European Union. Their wages are often lower than in factories in China," he told DW. 

Australia's Shame

Australia must reduce the “astounding” rates of imprisonment for indigenous peoples and step up the fight against racism, on 4 April warned Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.
"...it has failed to respect their rights to self-determination and to full and effective participation in society,” she added at the end of an official visit to Australia.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the Australian government policies have failed to deliver on targets in the areas of “health, education and employment and have led to a growing number of people being jailed, and have resulted in an increasing number of children being removed from their homes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

“High rates of incarceration were described to me as a “tsunami” affecting indigenous peoples. It is a major human rights concern. The figures are simply astounding. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up only 3 per cent of the total population, they constitute 27 per cent of the prison population, and much more in some prisons,” she stressed.
“I visited Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville, Queensland, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children constitute 95 per cent of the children detained. Many have been going from out-of-home care into detention,” Tauli-Corpuz said, adding that aboriginal children are seven times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in contact with the child protection system or to be subject to abuse or neglect.
“… I urge Australia to increase the age of criminal responsibility. Children should be detained only as a last resort… These children are essentially being punished for being poor and in most cases, prison will only aggravate the cycle of violence, poverty and crime. I found meeting young children, some only 12 years old, in detention the most disturbing element of my visit.”
The UN expert expressed criticism of the government programme known as the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which was initiated in 2014 and involved a large budget cut in funding for support programmes. “The implementation of the strategy has been bureaucratic, rigid and has wasted considerable resources on administration.” She also expressed concern that the government would not meet targets to close the gap in areas such as “life expectancy, infant mortality, education and employment,” and called for a comprehensive approach including specific targets for the “reduction of detention rates, child removal and violence against women.”

Monday, April 24, 2017

Trump and capitalist populism


Are any of us surprised that Trump turns out not to bethe worker-friendly populist he posed as while running for president?  He’s not the great anti-establishment outsider determined to return “power to the people”. Trump isn’t the swamp-draining populist working class champion he pretended to be on the campaign trail. Trump is the latest in a long line of sloganeers from Huey Long’s ‘Every man a king’ to Bill Clinton’s ‘Putting People First.’  Trump reveals the unoriginality of the phenomenon.

The evidence for this is solid enough.  His cabinet and top advisor circle is full of members of the ruling class like former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn (top economic adviser), long-time top Goldman Sachs partner and top executive Steve Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury), and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce). Trump has surrounded himself with the very same elite he criticized Hillary Clinton for representing. Trump meets regularly with top corporate and financial CEOs, who have been assured that he will govern in accord with their wishes.  He receives applause from business elites for his agenda of significant large scale tax cuts and deregulation for wealthy individuals and corporations they milk for obscene profits.

Trump was never really an anti-establishment candidate beyond the deceptive rhetoric he cynically employed – consistent with the longstanding fake-populist “essence of American [and bourgeois] politics” – to win enough white working class and rural votes to prevail over dismal, dollar-drenched Hillary Clinton.Trump is where the elites want him and “serves the establishment.”

 From Karl Marx’s time and before to the present day, bourgeois “constitutional” states practicing a strictly limited and deceptive form of “democracy” have been torn by a fundamental contradiction.  On one hand, victorious candidates have to win enough popular votes to prevail in elections. They can hardly do that by proclaiming their commitment to the rule of the wealthy capitalist Few.  On the other hand, they cannot garner the resources to win elections and govern effectively without the backing and cooperation of the investor/capitalist class, whose control of money and the means of production is critical to political power and policymaking.

 in a critique by Anthony DiMaggio:
U.S. corporations exercised power over communities, much like Kings do over feudal serfs, by exercising ownership over the means of production in the U.S. economy. They command worker loyalty due to their ability to hire and fire Americans and provide basic benefits such as health care or 401k and pension benefits. But corporations also possess the power to destroy people’s lives via capital flight. Simply by threatening to leave a community and move factories abroad in pursuit of higher profits and weaker environmental regulations, corporations hold citizens hostage…The marketplace is a prison, Lindblom warned, because these corporations ultimately control the levers of the U.S. economy, and control the life outcomes of American workers.”

Beyond the ownership and investment/disinvestment levers, concentrated capital achieves policy, cultural, and societal outcomes it prefers in numerous other ways: the buying of candidates and election through campaign donations; the flooding of government with armies of well-heeled lobbyists; the drafting and dissemination of Big Business-friendly legislation; massive investment in public relations and propaganda to influence the beliefs and values of citizens, politicians, and other “opinion-shapers”; direct “revolving door” capture of key government positions; the offer of private sector positions to public officials who reasonably expect significantly increased compensation once they exit government; the “cognitive [ideological] capture” (every bit as corrupting as bribery) of state officials, politicians, media personnel, educators, nonprofit managers, and other “influential;” the destruction and undermining of organizations (i.e., labor unions) that might offer some countervailing power to that of big business; the granting of jobs, corporate board memberships, internships, and other perks and payments to public officials’ family members; the control of education and publishing; the ownership, management, and  monitoring of mass media (including “entertainment” as well as public affairs news and commentary).

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed that Americans “We may have democracy or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

That was an unwitting call for the abolition of capitalism, which is marked among other things by an inherent tendency towards the upward concentration of wealth and power. Dressing elite class and economic interests in popular garb has always been a core function of the U.S. electoral and party system in its various iterations.  The two major parties have different historical, demographic, ethno-cultural, religious, and geographic profiles that matter.  Still, they are united at the end of the day in their shared manipulations of carefully calibrated populist rhetoric and voter and partisan identity on behalf of the bipartisan super-rich and their global empire. Chris Hedges wrote, “Whether it’s Bush or whether it’s Obama, Goldman Sachs always wins. There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs.” The two reigning capitalist parties was aptly described by Upton Sinclair in 1904 as “two wings of the same bird of prey”. 

It’s become fashionable on both left and right to think of Wall Street along with that of Silicon Valley and the military industrial complex as a reflection of the rule of the permanent “deep state.” But it is hard not to sense behind the notion of the “deep state” the simple and less-than-secretive persistence of the class rule regime called capitalism.

Adapted and abridged Paul Street article from here

Fact of the Day (military spending)

According to figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) today, during the Global Days of Action on Military Spending, world military expenditure in 2016 totalled an estimated US$1,686 billion.

 Last year's global military spending averaged out to more than US$4.6 billion every day, while an average of more than 16,000 children under the age of five died every day from mainly preventable causes - lack of access to adequate food, clean water and basic medicines. 

Just twelve days of military expenditure would eradicate extreme poverty everywhere, and just five weeks of military expenditure would ensure that five of the key UN Sustainable Development Goals are met. 

The United States remains the country with the highest annual military expenditure in the world. US military spending grew by 1.7 per cent between 2015 and 2016 to $611 billion. 

Military expenditure by China, which was the second largest spender in 2016, increased by 5.4 per cent to $215 billion, a much lower rate of growth than in previous years.

 Russia increased its spending by 5.9 per cent in 2016 to $69.2 billion, making it the third largest spender. 

Saudi Arabia was the third largest spender in 2015 but dropped to fourth position in 2016. Spending by Saudi Arabia fell by 30 per cent in 2016 to $63.7 billion, despite its continued involvement in regional wars. India’s military expenditure grew by 8.5 per cent in 2016 to $55.9 billion, making it the fifth largest spender.

What is social democracy?

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is part of the World Socialist Movement (more an aspiration rather than the reality, sadly) and was founded in 1904, having emerged from the 19th social democracy political parties. The structure of the Socialist Party is democratic, fore-shadowing the future society we advocate. We have no leaders or controlling cliques. Our affairs are run according to the decisions of the entire membership through instructed delegates at Annual Conference, its decisions ratified by an all-member poll. Our officials are elected annually, again by the entire membership. Our Executive Committee is for basic Party house-keeping administration, unable to propose or decide policy matters. The General Secretary is a dogs-body. Any organisation can claim to be in favour of democracy. We are to be judged not on what we claim but on what we do. Having nothing to fear from the presence of non-members (welcoming them, in fact), we have never held a closed meeting in our entire history. That is completely in keeping with our conviction that the revolution to establish the socialist democracy will not be ours; it will be a revolution itself decided upon by a majority of humanity. We oppose the practices of so many so-called revolutionary organisations down the years who expect to bring democracy to the masses while unwilling to practice it internally. As a matter of political principle, the Socialist Party's internal records (except, understandably, for the current membership names and addresses which remain confidential) are open to public consultation. In keeping with the tenet that working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership, the Socialist Party is a leader-free political party. The Socialist Party is free of any hierarchy and all members are constitutionally equal. Despite some very charismatic members, no personality has exercised undue influence over the Party. Under UK electoral law, a registered political party has to name its leader and to comply the Socialist Party simply drew a name out of a hat and it is doubtful if any member recollects who it was. The same practice will occur at this year's annual conference.

When someone comes across the Socialist Party for the first time, a common reaction is to consider us as just another left-wing political organisation. The Left use similar terminology to us, talking of socialism, class struggle, exploitation, etc, and invoking Karl Marx. But digging a little deeper will show that our political position is very different from that of the left-wing. The Socialist Party is not on the Left. The left-wing like to act as though they are Moses, and lay down the commandments in stone for followers to obey. Left-wing propaganda offering leadership adds to the impression that the worker is an inferior being who is incapable of thinking, organising and acting and imbues further the master-and-servant mentality of the worker. As already stated all Left organisations start from the premise that workers are too stupid to understand or want socialism by their own volition. Therefore, revolutionary ideas have to be introduced from outside the working class by all-knowing "professional revolutionaries" who will lead workers to the promised land. We are not and never have been connected with the ideas of Lenin, Trotsky or Stalin.

The Socialist Party engages in the parliamentary process not to form a government but for the purpose of seizing control of the state for its abolishment. We insist on the necessity of majority understanding behind socialist delegates with a mandate for socialism, merely using the state and parliament for one revolutionary act, after which the Socialist Party has no further existence. The State is the centralised organised power of the capitalist class. In the interests of that class, it performs a dual function – administers the property affairs of the various sections comprising the class, and takes whatever steps are considered necessary to keep the working class in order. It is the latter coercive function of the State that has concerned us here. It controls every department of the armed forces, all the way from the policemen’s clubs up to the colossal force of the atomic bomb. So long as the capitalist class is allowed to remain in control of the military, there would be no chance of dispossessing the capitalists or abolishing their system. The primary move on the part of a revolutionary working class entails gaining control of the armed forces. The House of Commons, Reichstag, Congress or Dail, these so-called popular assemblies control the armed forces. Every bill presented, and every law passed, regarding every phase of military expenditure, reduction, or increase, has to go through the parliamentary channels. There is no possibility of the workers successfully engaging the capitalist class on the basis of brute force or violence. The tremendous and destructive nature of military weapons in society today preclude the possibility of successful competition. The owning class has a supreme and invincible weapon within its grasp: political power, – control of the military and the police.

We will need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party, a mass workers' party that has yet to emerge, not the small educational and propagandist group such as we in the Socialist Party are at present. This future party will neutralise the state and its repressive forces but there is no question of forming a government and "taking office", It will proceed to take over the means of production for which the working class has also already organised themselves to do at their places of work. This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, reorganised on a democratic basis, are merged with the organisations which the majority will have formed (workers councils or city/town communes or whatever) to take over and run production, to form the democratic administrative structure of the stateless society of common ownership that socialism will be. By gaining control of the powers of the state, the socialist majority are in a position to transfer the means of living from the parasites, who own them, to society, where they belong. This is the only function or needs the working class has of the state/government. As soon as the revolution has accomplished this task, the state is replaced by the socialist administration of affairs. There is no government in a socialist society. “Capturing” Parliament is only a measure of acceptance of socialism and a coup de grace to capitalist rule. The real revolution in social relations will be made in our lives and by ourselves, not Parliament. What really matters is a conscious socialist majority outside parliament, ready and organised, to take over and run industry and society. Electing a socialist majority in parliament is essentially just a reflection of this. It is not parliament that establishes socialism, but the socialist working-class majority outside parliament and they do this, not by their votes, but by their active participating beyond this in the transformation of society.

One of the driving forces for the creation of the party was the view that democracy was integral to the establishment of socialism and thus a party with that object needs to be a reflection of the democratic principle. So although with a long history as a political party based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles we still remain a small propagandist group. Mandating delegates, voting on resolutions and membership referendums are democratic practices for ensuring that the members of an organisation control that organisation – and as such key procedures in any organisation genuinely seeking socialism. Socialism can only be a fully democratic society in which everybody will have an equal say in the ways things are run. This means that it can only come about democratically, both in the sense of being the expressed will of the working class and in the sense of the working class being organised democratically – without leaders, but with mandated delegates – to achieve it. In rejecting these procedures what is being declared is that the working class should not organise itself democratically.

We actually have a test before someone can become a member. Our Party will not allow a person to join it until the applicant has convinced the branch applied to that she or he is a conscious socialist. Surely it must put some people off? Well, that may be, but it can't be helped. There would be no point in a socialist organisation giving full democratic rights to those who, in any significant way, disagreed with the socialist case. The outcome of that would be entirely predictable. This does not mean that the Socialist Party has set itself up as an intellectual elite into which only those well versed in Marxist scholarship may enter. The reason is to ensure that only conscious socialists enter its ranks, for, once admitted, all members are equal and it would clearly not be in the interest of the Party to offer equality of power to those who are not able to demonstrate equality of basic socialist understanding. Once a member, s/he have the same rights as the oldest member to sit on any committee, vote, speak, and have access to all information. Thanks to the test all members are conscious socialists and there is a genuine internal democracy, and of that, we are fiercely proud. Consider what happens when people join other groups which don't have this test. The new applicant has to be approved as being "all right". The individual is therefore judged by the group according to a range of what might be called "credential indicators". Hard work (often, paper selling) and obedience by new members is the main criterion of trustworthiness in the organisation. In these hierarchical, "top-down" groups the leaders strive at all costs to remain as the leadership , and reward only those with proven commitment to the "party line" with preferential treatment, more responsibility, and more say. New members who present the wrong indicators remain peripheral to the party structure and finding themselves unable to influence decision-making at any level, eventually give up and leave, often embittered by the hard work they put in and the hollowness of the party's claims of equality and democracy.

We share in common with the Industrial Workers of the World the view that unions should not be used as a vehicle for political parties. The Socialist Party have always insisted that there will be a separation and that no political party should, or can successfully use , unions as an economic wing until a time very much closer to the revolution when there are substantial and sufficient numbers of socialist conscious workers. And that's not in the foreseeable future. It is NOT the our task in the Socialist Party to lead the workers in struggle or to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, tenants' associations or whatever, because we believe that workers are quite capable of making decisions for themselves and creating their own flexible means of resisting the encroachments of capitalism, depending on situations and circumstances. For the Leninist, of course, all activity should be mediated by the Party (union activity, neighbourhood community struggles or whatever.)

While work-place democracy is unquestioningly a pre-requisite for socialist administration, the real democratic safeguard is when no-one can deprive another of the means for life - food clothing and shelter - through sectional ownership of them, regardless of how internally democratic their enterprise might be. This constitutes part of the Socialist Party argument against syndicalism, industrial unionism, and co-operatives. Since socialism is based on the social ownership (= ownership by society as a whole, common ownership) of the means of production, the trade union ownership proposed by the syndicalists (the mines for the miners, railways for the railmen) was not socialism at all but a modified form of sectional ownership. A society run by syndicates/ industrial unions would be a society which would perpetuate the occupational divisions which capitalism imposed on workers. Such a form of organisation would divide the workers on the basis of the industries in which they were engaged, with the inevitable consequence that the industrial interest must triumph over the social interest which socialism so fundamentally demands. In addition, the relations between the separate union-run industries, it has been argued, would have to be regulated either by some central administration, which would amount to a government and so give rise to a new ruling class or by some form of commercial exchange transaction (even if conducted in labour-time vouchers rather than money as many syndicalists proposed.) In other words, a syndicalist society would be a sort of capitalism run by the unions. 

Socialism aims not to establish "workers power" but the abolition of all classes including the working class. It is thus misleading to speak of socialism as workers ownership and control of production. In socialist society, there would simply be people, free and equal men and women forming a classless community. So it would be more accurate to define socialism/communism in terms of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by and in the interest of the whole people. "Workers council" would have been a misnomer since socialism, being a classless society, involves the disappearance of the working class just as much as of the capitalist class. "Democratic councils" would have been a more appropriate term. A society where the means of production belong to everybody and run by democratic councils, that's socialism.

The threat of the bureaucracy assuming a new class in socialism cannot arise. Free access to goods and services denies to any group or individuals the political leverage with which to dominate others, a feature intrinsic to all private-property or class based systems through control and rationing of the means of life. The notion of status and hierarchy based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services. This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. Decisions will be made at different levels of organisation: global, regional and local with the bulk of decision-making being made at the local level. A socialist economy would be free access to the common treasury with no monopoly of ownership, and not even the actual producers who in the past have called for ownership of their own product, as promoted by mutualism and syndicalism, can deprive individuals in society to the common ownership of the means of production and distribution.

 A socialist society will be one in which all people will be free to participate fully in the process of making and implementing policy. Whether decisions about constructing a new playground, the need to improve fish stocks in the North Sea, or if we should use nanobots to improve our lives, everyone everywhere will be able to voice their opinion and cast their vote. However, the practical ramifications of this democratic principle could be enormous. If people feel obliged to opine and vote on every matter of policy they would have little time to do anything else. The traditional image of huge crowds with their hands up in council meetings, or queues of people lining up to put a piece of paper in a box, is obviously becoming old-fashioned, even in capitalism. 

On the other hand, leaving the decision-making process to a system of elected executive groups or councils could be seen as going against the principle of fully participatory democracy. If socialism is going to maintain the practice of inclusive decision making which does not put big decisions in the hands of small groups but without generating a crisis of choice, then a solution is required, and it seems that capitalism may have produced one in the form of 'collaborative filtering' (CF) software. This technology is currently used on the internet where a crisis of choice already exists. Faced with a superabundance of products and services, CF helps consumers choose what to buy and navigate the huge numbers of options. It starts off by collecting data on an individual's preferences, extrapolates patterns from this and then produces recommendations based on that person's likes and dislikes. With suitable modification, this technology could be of use to socialism - not to help people decide what to consume, but which matters of policy to get involved in. A person's tastes, interests, skills, and academic achievements, rather than their shopping traits, could be put through the CF process and matched to appropriate areas of policy in the resulting list of recommendations. A farmer, for example, may be recommended to vote upon matters which affect him/her, and members of the local community, directly, or of which s/he is likely to have some knowledge, such as increasing yields of a particular crop, the use of GM technology, or the responsible use of land by ramblers.

 The technology would also put them in touch with other people of similar interests so that issues can be thrashed out more fully, and may even inform them that "People who voted on this issue also voted on…" The question is, would a person be free to ignore the recommendations and vote on matters s/he has little knowledge of, or indeed not vote at all? Technology cannot resolve issues of responsibility, but any system, computer software or not, which helps reduce the potential burden of decision making to manageable levels would. How could too much voting be bad for you.