Thursday, December 27, 2007

Russia's Afghan Hound

This day in 1979 saw Russia send 75,000 troops into Afghanistan. The Socialist Standard of February 1980 had 'Russia Seizes Afghanistan' on its front page and noted that "Lenin in 1918 proclaimed "No Annexations." What humbug! Soviet policy in 1980 is equally two-faced. The USSR behaves like every capitalist power in the fight for oil, markets and territorial influence. Socialists oppose capitalism whatever its variety, 'western' and 'eastern'." One of the ways the US responded to this threat was to spend billions of dollars supporting and training members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda who would be fighting against the Russian army for most of the next decade. The article went on to note the wearisome, nauseous hypocrisy coming from all sides and concluded tellingly by stating that the "..invasion of Afghanistan will not improve the world, it will not make humans better fed, more secure. At most it will draw fresh battle lines to mark the the wars yet to come. In the course of capitalism's conflicts Afghanistan has suffered over centuries and there is no reason to believe that its future will be any more peaceful. So we have been here before and we will be here again. It may happen next in a different country with another set of statesman to peddle their lies; or new political analysts to pronounce their instant solutions. And there will be other workers to die and suffer, in spite of the moldering graves of those before them which testify to the futility of it all."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A New Year Threatens

I hope readers of this blog enjoyed the food, the drink and the company of their friends and family over Christmas.

Normally, the Socialist Party gets very cynical at Xmas (like the time we said: "Why Santa Claus Should Get Stuffed"). But let's be different for a change and not rant about the commercial nature of the whole shebbang; or how divorces rise as people try hard to be happy but end up miserable and arguing as the stress becomes too much; and let us not even go into that arch-parasite's insulting message to those she calls her subjects. Nope - we workers need a break from the grind of producing profits for the capitalists, and it is thus with a sincere wish that I hope people did get to relax.

Of course, get ready for yet another year of the same: stress at work, bills to pay, etc.

2007 reviews will look at how England managed to surprise in the Rugby Union World Cup, or how England lost in a deciding football game against Croatia at Wembley. If it isn't the sport, focus will be on, perhaps, the change in New Labour leadership and the election that wasn't and the collapse of Northern Rock.

Attention won't be put on how the capitalist system has stunted and ended lives in 2007, like it did in 2006, 2005, 2004...and how it will do so in 2008.

As 2008 approaches, workers will genuinely hope 2008 will be a happy year. 1 January has obtained a mystical status; it's almost as if life starts on a fresh new page in the diary of human history, to use an alliteration. It's a foolish hope in reality.

Here, the Socialist Party isn't being cynical at all. We are stating a fact, and I guess people recognise that fact all too well.

So we say to fellow workers: why not take out a subscription to the "Socialist Standard", read about socialism, and why not even consider joining the party? There can be no socialism without your help.

And when more and more join the socialist movement, 2009 might actually be a happy new year because we have acted in common to end war, poverty and all the other problems caused by capitalism because we have cast it on the scrapheap of history

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Jesus Christ super myth

Workers must one day learn to believe in themselves. That they can really make a new and better world. And that nobody else can do it for them. Many still believe that Christ will do it for them if they believe hard enough. Well, if it's silly to believe in men who did exist, what price believing in one who didn't?
The Socialist Standard does not normally use up its space on articles about dim religious figures from the murky past and in general readers can find out all they need to know from the "professional" anti-religious papers such as the New Humanist. (There was also, a few years ago, a very convincing article by, of all people, the Tory historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper in, of all papers, the Spectator*..) But briefly, the main arguments against the legend of Christ are as follows.
First and foremost is the total lack of any authentic reference to this alleged individual among all the contemporary writers and historians (and there were quite a number whose works have come down to us from that era of the Roman Empire). Just imagine - here is a chap who had no father - his mum was far too pure to allow any man to do anything so disgusting as copulate with her. (There was a boy friend called Joseph knocking about, it seems, but I suppose he knew it was no use trying - or maybe he just did not fancy her.)
Having made his entry into this vale of tears in such an odd way, clearly there could be no stopping Jesus afterwards. He seems to have been apprenticed to a chippy but we are not told if he was any good at it though in view of what he achieved later, to produce some smashing tables and chairs he would only have had to scratch his left ear.
Be that as it may, he spent his time going around doing odd parlour tricks like walking on water, feeding a multitude with a mere handful of loaves and fishes, making the blind see and the lame to walk and - my next trick is impossible - even raising a bloke called Lazarus from the dead (I don't know if he is still alive or whether he died next time for keeps).
And he caused such a deal of bother in a Roman province called Judea that the governor, name of Pontius Pilate, was actually moved to wash his hands which must have been an unusual thing to do in those dirty days.
Now isn't it puzzling that all this was going on and the contemporary historians never said a dicky bird about it? It is indeed so puzzling that the Christian fathers, long after the events took place (or did not take place) realised they were on a loser if they didn't do something about it. So being first class frauds and villains (just like our own bishops and popes), they solved the problem thus: There was a famous contemporary historian called Josephus who was a baptised Jew living in Rome who wrote a very important book called The History of the Jews. And - hocus pocus! - there appeareth a passage in the book telling us all about Jesus. Only one little problem remained. The passage never appeared in the book while Josephus was alive. He somehow remembered to put it in centuries after his death. In other words, the only evidence in favour of the historicity of Christ is a blatant piece of Christian forgery.
You can add other morsels if you like to bother. For example, why did Jesus himself leave no written material of any kind? We have lots of material from even more ancient societies in the civilised Middle East. Surely daddy must have taught Jesus to write as well as walk on water? Finally, in case anyone says: what about the gospels? Well, what about them? The earliest was written nearly a century after Christ had died (or not died) on the cross - a fate that occurred to lots of people in those days, including others of the numerous messiahs knocking about.
At least far fewer people believe in Christ nowadays so there is some sign of progress. How about stopping believing in the likes of Jesus Wedgwood Benn or the Virgin Mary Thatcher?
(L E Weidburg, Socialist Standard, February 1980)
*Probably "The Creation of Christ." The Spectator, 1971.

See also, for example:

and -

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Series of Talks on Figures in Marxist History

Fellow blogger Darren has been uploading a series of talks from 1982 by a former SPGB member, S.Coleman, which he links to on his own blog.

Worth a listen and downloading. Here.

NB: I thought I should point out that Coleman doesn't present biographies; rather he looks at the ideas the figures held and obviously talks alot about them and the relation they have to the ideas of the SPGB.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

War Against Thy Neighbour

Socialist Party Meeting: Neighbours (1952)

The Socialist Party will be hosting a special screening of the classic 1952 short film, 'Neighbours' by Norman McLaren. The film will be followed by a talk on the socialist attitude to war.

Date: Sunday, 16 December 2007 from 19:00 to 21:00

Speaker: Gwynn Thomas

Location: Socialist Party Head Office

52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4 7UN

Nearest tube:
Clapham North

Nearest rail: Clapham High Street

For more information about the Socialist Party:



Saturday, December 08, 2007


John Lennon was murdered on this day 27 years ago. Here is what the Socialist Standard had to say shortly afterwards:

"Newspapers have described the tragic death of John Lennon as the end of an era. We wish they were right. We wish it was the end of a period of human society in which rock singers could accumulate millions of pounds from the sale of records while millions starve for want of a bowl of rice; we wish we could write an obituary to the violent social system of capitalism in which men like Lennon's alleged murderer can easily obtain and use a gun; we wish we could report the end of the wars and malnutrition and the inequality about which Lennon sang so well. But the era of capitalism is still with us and there will be others to grow rich singing about the miseries it causes.

Lennon was a talented musician and lyricist who understood the world he lived in more than most of his musical colleagues. Some of his songs showed definite political perception and what is generally considered to be his greatest post-Beatles record, 'Imagine', showed an understanding of the meaning of socialism which is almost unmatched in the history of rock music. The song urges people to imagine a world without possessions, countries, wars, hunger or religion. When a meeting of our companion party, the Socialist Party of Canada, was shown on Canadian TV, 'Imagine' was selected by the producer as the most appropriate theme song to sum up our views.

Rock critics regarded Lennon's message with predictable hypocrisy. While claiming that Lennon was a great musician and that they were in tune with what he was trying to say, they have disparaged such songs as 'Imagine'as an "idealistic vision". (Robin Denselow, the Guardian, 12.12.80.) They prefer to stress Lennon's more easily categorised leftist lyrics, such as those on 'Some Time In New York City' in which he expressed his support for the divisive nationalism of the IRA. Like many people, John Lennon vaguely perceived important socialist ideas, but these became confused with the pragmatic radicalism for which he will be remembered by the trendy sloganisers of the Left. For genuine world socialists the vision of a society of which Lennon sings in 'Imagine' is worth more than any of the sterile aggression of modern punk rock. The man may be dead, but the vision of a world of peace, equality and freedom lives on within the socialist movement which neither Lennon nor his supporters have had the wisdom to join. At the risk of being labelled a Marxist-Lennonist, this writer echoes the words of 'Imagine'

You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope one day you'll join me

And the world will live as one.

(Socialist Standard, January 1981)

Readers might also like to click on this link for a more detailed piece concerning John Lennon from a socialist perspective:

  • 'Imagine' by John Lennon
  • But before the world will live as one, there are many obstacles to be overcome:

  • Is John Lennon’s imagine a trick?
  • Clearly, Mark Deshaw is far from alone in his woeful ignorance of historical reality.


    Saturday, December 01, 2007

    Workers Have No Country

    Editorial from the December 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Whether Polish plumbers, Portuguese hop-pickers or Chinese cockle-pickers, migrant labour in the UK is undoubtedly higher profile now than it has been for many decades. The focus groups and private polling used by the major parties are confirming immigration as the No 1 issue for voters at the moment.

    In some parts of the UK the influx may well have resulted in increased unemployment for existing workers and appears to be putting a downward pressure on wages in some sectors.

    It's worth noting that there has been an enormous effort made to vilify, criminalise and erase racist language and ideas over the last few decades. World socialists have not opposed these developments but we have argued that racism – like other the so-called "hate" crimes – is usually fuelled and ignited by poverty and fear, and therefore cannot be removed until the cause is.

    For workers fighting over crumbs in lower wage unskilled jobs, the temptation to blame your unemployment or wage level on foreign labour may be strong. But nevertheless such views are false. The blame lies elsewhere. In order to stay profitable, UK employers are demanding cheap labour. It makes good business sense to welcome cheap labour from overseas – you didn't have to pay for its education, and after you have exploited it for a lifetime, you still won't have to pay its pension.

    In many ways the government is only repeating at the national level what has been happening at employer level for many years with out-sourcing of staffing costs.

    And while the free movement of labour is restricted, capital is of course expected to roam the globe looking out for ever better rates of exploitation, sniffing around the sweatshops for signs of harsher working conditions or longer hours. But if these chickens come home to roost – if little pockets of the third world's poor actually have the gumption or bravery to start popping up on our doorstep – then our local administrators of capitalism start to get a bit edgy.

    As with so many issues, politicians are slowly realising that governments must simply accommodate to capitalism with regard to migration and accept it. They can only try to control it but if they are to have any hope of effectively securing borders and finding those who slip through they must expend vast sums as on ID cards and the like.

    The World Socialist Movement didn't get its name for nothing. Unique amongst all political parties left and right we have no national axe to grind. We side with no particular state, no government, no currency. We have no time for nationalisation or privatisation, for border controls or for migration incentives. The world over, workers must do what they can individually and collectively to survive and resist capitalism. In many parts of the world that means escaping the tyranny of political terror or economic poverty. Politically however, workers should try and resist taking sides in the battles of the economic blocs who just happen to be named on the front of your passport. You must not blame another worker for your poverty. Instead we would argue that workers should recognise that – whether migrant or not, whether illegal or legal.

    Sunday, November 25, 2007

    Fascists all

    What have the British National Party, David Irving, 'equality watchdog chief' Trevor Philips, Dr Julian Lewis (not to mention a large number of other MPs) and groups such as Unite Against Fascism in common? It is not simply that all are would-be dictators; they uphold capitalism, each aiming to run in a particular way. A safeguard against them is needed, but it cannot come from force. The only safeguard is Socialist understanding. So, against the wishes of Lewis, Philips et al., let odious characters such as Nick Griffin and David Irving appear at at tomorrow's planned Oxford Union's Free Speech Forum, state their case, and have its worthless stupidity publicly demolished.

    That is what these 'defenders of freedom' fear. The Socialist Party has a long tradition of offering the platform of debate to everyone. We have on occasion, for example, debated the National Front only to find members of the International Socialists (now known as the Socialist Workers Party) attempting to shout down both speakers. Why? They simply did not want the fascist claptrap exposed - because it would have exposed theirs too. To them, a brawl in the street is preferable to argument, and the support of hooligans acceptable because they cannot get that of enlightened men and women. One further example should help clarify the Socialist position. On the 8th May 1973 a Professor Eysenck, infamous for his views about the 'intellectual abilities of American negroes', was forcibly prevented from expressing his views at the London School of Economics. The World Socialist Society at LSE made the following statement on the importance of free speech.

    "As members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, we are opposed to all censorship, whether it be through the legalized violence as enforced by the courts of the capitalist state or by the violence of self-appointed moral or political guardians. Let there be no misunderstanding of the meaning of what happened last week. A body of people decided that the rest of us should not be allowed to hear certain views they considered objectionable; they took it upon themselves to use physical violence to achieve this end - and succeeded. In other words, they successfully censored what we should hear. But will they stop here? Will they now proceed to prevent Eysenck expressing his views in writing? And, after that, will they burn the books he has already written? And what are the prospects for those of us who disagree with them if ever they win control of political power? Will we be shot or just put into concentration camps? These are serious questions since they are the logical extensions of the policy pursued by last week's political censors.

    There is a further point: all censorship - especially censorship of this kind, allegedly exercised for the benefit of the working class - is an insult to the intelligence of ordinary working men and women since it implies that they cannot be trusted to hear or read certain ideas and are incapable of making rational judgements on the merits of rival ideas. Those who favour censorship always assume that they are somehow superior to ordinary people and have the right to decide what ordinary people should or should not hear. Censorship is an elitist policy - but those who favour it here at the LSE such as the Maoists and Trotskyists have nothing but contempt for the ability of the working class to understand Socialist ideas and to establish Socialism by and for themselves.

    The classic case for allowing unpopular minority views to be expressed - including those with openly anti-democratic ones like fascism AND Maoism - has never been refuted: if they are wrong then their case will perish in the course of free, rational discussion; if they are right then censorship delays discovering this. As our resolution passed by the Union last Thursday puts: "only in the healthy atmosphere of free expression can ideas be debated, false ideas debunked and sound ideas developed". We are always prepared at all our meetings to give opponents of Socialism a chance to express their views. For we are convinced that our views are right and this will be shown in any free debate - and if we are wrong we wish to know so that we can stop wasting our time. WE STATE unambiguously that ALL censorship is anti-Socialist and anti-working class.

    Last week's incident has done one thing, if nothing else. It has brought into the open those who favour censorship of political ideas: the Maoists and Trotskyists. They have placed themselves in the same camp as the fascists themselves and stand exposed as the dangerous enemies of the working class prostituting the good name of Socialism.

    We stand for the common ownership of the means of production, without distinction of race or sex, organised democratically." (Socialist Standard, June 1973)


    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    The demise of Thatcher

    On this day in 1990 Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, an event which prompted the following 'So What?' Socialist Standard editorial:

    Who the hell cares which political dinosaur will lead the Conservative Party? What possible difference does the conclusion to this thieves' quarrel make to the vast majority of people living in Britain?

    The Tories represent the interests of the parasite class which lives on the profits which are legally robbed from the wealth-producing majority. The workers, who are the overwhelming majority, have nothing to be gained by supporting the sordid ambitions of politicians. The Prime Minister is not the workers' representative, but the chief mouthpiece of the profit-protecting government.

    The function of government is to rule over those who are the productive majority. The system in which the majority allows itself to be ruled - governed - oppressed by leaders is not democracy. Democracy means the rule of the people by the people. It means the administration of things, not the government over people. In a democracy there can be no leaders or led, for all people will co-operate to make the decisions which affect the life of the human community.

    The irrelevant leadership battle is a sordid fight between the defenders of capitalism who think that it is their role to govern and ours to be governed. We are not invited to vote in their election; all we are asked to do is sit in front of our TV screens and gaze at the cynical tactics of a gang of political tricksters.

    The Tory contestants were united by one policy; their complete and unequivocal support for world capitalism. In this they are at one with Kinnock and Ashdown. All of the politicians and parties of the profit system are solid in their rejection of any alternative to the way the world is run now. We live in a society where needs come second to profit and where those who possess do not produce while those who produce all goods and services do not possess the resources of the earth.

    The real political contest is not about who will lead the Tory party and draw the prime ministerial salary. It is a battle of ideas about whether the working class majority will support and vote for production for profit or production for use. If workers vote for the profit system then it matters not a jot which of the con men leads which party of fakers. If workers opt for socialism, as historical necessity demands we should, the the question of leadership is irrelevant. No socialist would ever follow a leader; no socialist seeks to lead anyone else.

    To the Tory tricksters we say "A plague on both your houses!" Socialists have better things to think about than the dirty fighting of those who run this dirty social system.

    In 1979 Mrs Thatcher came to power heralded as the saviour of British capitalism. She now quits the stage with British capitalism in economic decline. Far from realising her boast "to bury socialism", her political career has been buried by capitalism. (Socialist Standard, December 1990)


    Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    Who are the Litter Louts?

    Official statistics from the Home Office’s Office of National Statistics show that there is a high level of concern about the problem of litter. Indeed, of all crime and anti-social behaviour litter has the second highest source of concern (33 percent of those surveyed felt “a high level of worry”). Vandalism comes top of the list (34 percent), both much higher than racial harassment (8 percent) and fear of burglary (14 percent). Hardly a week goes by without a letter sent to local papers on the subject. Now common or garden street litter is hardly one of the world’s major problems, but most people are primarily concerned with things that affect them - it is simply a human response to something right before the eyes. People clearly want and indeed should expect a decent local environment. What can be done about this problem? We examine a few solutions . . .

  • Solution no. 1: More bins. It might be suggested that more rubbish bins would solve the problem. Certainly this could have some effect. However my local area has plenty of bins (empty ones) and plenty of litter. Putting the rubbish in the bins is clearly something different from putting the bins up in the first place.
  • Solution no. 2: The strong arm of the law. A crackdown on ‘litter louts’- fines or imprisonment - can be a short term solution particularly in areas with a traditional respect of authority. Such a policy has been carried out very successfully, for example in Singapore. However, whether large and disparate societies have the resources to deal with what is basically a minor infraction of the law in such a heavy handed manner is doubtful.
  • Solution no. 3: Education. A rather cheaper method than a policeman on every corner would be a concerted campaign in the schools: “Naughty children: don’t throw things on the street.” However education (or what passes for it in these sad times) seems to be part of the problem. It is almost certainly the case that the majority of street litter is thrown by children or adolescents.
  • Solution no. 4: ‘Alternative’ education. If it really is the case that littering is a product of alienation in the schools it might be advisable to change the system of schooling to one more child-friendly. At the risk of us being deluged with letters from irate ‘alt-ed’ enthusiasts, the idea of ‘nice’ schooling is ridiculous in a world that is most definitely not nice. The modern system of education generally fits the bill required - that of producing (and reproducing) the ideal modern worker. Also again we hit the problem of resources - who will pay for this intensive, alternative approach?
  • Solution no. 5: A ‘green’ idea. Very popular in Germany, the Green ‘Law of Return’ means that councils are entitled to ship product wrappings back to the factory of origin. A ton of crisp packets dumped on the doorstep is a powerful argument for making biodegradable or recyclable packaging. This comes close to the problem and all credit here for identifying the real litter louts. But recycling uses resources – surely better, as far as is possible, not to produce potential litter in the first place; however, this cannot be expected from those whose business is to produce.
  • Solution no. 6: Socialism. Litter, like most other problems of the world, is a product of the current phase of capitalism. Consumption to the nth power (including snack foods, the main cause of street litter), within a background of built-in obsolescence determined chiefly by the great corporations, is the order of the day, all driven by the relentless quest for profit. Compounding the issue within capitalism is the sense of alienation, especially among young people, the result of the class ownership of society and the commodifying of everyday life – all of which helps produce the carelessness of littering. Powerless and voiceless – why should the ‘litter lout’ care? The streets really are not our own, nor can they be under capitalism.
  • KAZ

    Monday, November 19, 2007


    Wearing a 'Vegan You Can't Get Greener' T-shirt Heather Mills as the face of animal charity VIVA! said yesterday that "The startling truth is that animals farmed for meat and dairy are now one of the greatest threats to the planet." This is essentially a spin on a earlier fallacy in which VIVA! stated that meat causes starvation. (See the article, Meat, Money and Malnutrition, from the March 2005 Socialist Standard. )

    To use a phrase from the charity's latest campaign, Socialists would say that this group as well as the meat and dairy consuming "environmentalists" they are addressing 'haven't got a leg to stand on' when their green reformism is examined. Indeed, Socialists have since the 19th century been warning of the dire effects of capitalist production (see an earlier post from this blog, "Too late" to stop global catastrophe? ).

    What is essentially missing from Viva's analysis and that of other Greens is even the most basic understanding the way capitalism works. We would echo today what was pointed out buy William Morris as long ago as 1886:

    “a man can hardly be a sound Socialist who puts forward vegetarianism as a solution of the difficulties between labour and capital, as some people do” (Commonweal, 25 September 1886).


    Sunday, November 11, 2007


    The ribbons arrayed the honours displayed
    The medals jingling on parade
    Echo of battles long ago
    But they’re picking sides for another go.

    The martial air, the vacant stare
    The oft-repeated pointless prayer
    “Peace oh’ Lord on earth below”
    Yet they’re picking sides for another go.

    The clasped hands, the pious stance
    The hackneyed phrase “Somewhere in France”
    The eyes downcast as bugles blow
    Still they’re picking sides for another go.

    Symbol of death the cross-shaped wreath
    The sword is restless in the sheath
    As children pluck where poppies grow
    They’re picking sides for another go.

    Have not the slain but died in vain?
    The hoardings point, “Prepare again”
    The former friend a future foe?
    They’re picking sides for another go.

    I hear Mars laugh at the cenotaph
    Says he, as statesmen blow the gaff
    “Let the Unknown Warriors flame still glow”
    For they’re picking sides for another go.

    A socialist plan the world would span
    Then man would live in peace with man
    Then wealth to all would freely flow
    And want and war we would never know.

    (J. Boyle 1971)

    Saturday, November 10, 2007

    Letter from Pakistan

    A socialist from Pakistan writes: I am writing to inform you that the Swat district where I live and work has seen a wave of terror and militancy over the last few weeks. The militants claiming to be the local Taliban have captured major towns in the scenic Swat valley and hoisted their flags on police stations and government buildings, while preparing to advance to bring other regions under their control.

    The government has moved paramilitary forces to the region and have stationed them at key points. There have been clashes, shelling, bomb blasts and even suicide bombing on government forces resulting in heavy casualties. The local people demand the government to restore peace in the valley but the government has failed so far to do anything worthwhile. Recently the government imposed emergency, a kind of mini martial law in the whole country, blaming militancy and terrorism have increased and need to be brought under control, but people are very reluctant to believe the government would ever do something. Many argue the government and intelligence agencies are deliberately stoking the fire in the frontier region so as to extract more fund and time from its paymasters like the US for its war on terror. The local people are suffering. Mass migration from areas under the control of the taliban has started, people fearing they might get caught up in cross fire. Schools and colleges have been closed down for a month now, first under the threat from taliban and now because of the tense situation.

    It is only a fortnight ago that the forces stationed in Swat and the militants who have been patrolling certain areas under their influence came eye to eye and started firing at each other. That has continued and their are sporadic clashes, shelling from helicopters, kidnappings, abductions of the security personnel and even beheading of those who are captured. FC men (frontier constabulary) in hundreds, unable to put up a fight or overpowered by the militants laid down their arms and surrendered to the talibans. The overall situation is very tense now and that the government has decided to launch a comprehensive military operation in order to flush out these militants from areas captured by them and a semblance of peace restored in the area.

    Meanwhile all the NGOs, working for the uplift of the area have wound up their activities and left the area; projects incomplete and that there is a complete chaos all around. In such a situation people are now fleeing the area and have taken shelters down in the country. At the moment the militants have brought some 59 villages under their control and are now advancing to capture more. They have appointed administrators for each area and plan to set up their own shariat courts and execute justice. The worst sufferers are the students and their parents. This unnatural break in the studies of the students has disturbed them and they are suffering psychologically, fearing their schools might be bombed or the vehicles carrying them to schools might be hit by suicide bombers as the militants have threatened girls schools to close down or face bombing.


    Friday, November 09, 2007

    Society does exist, admits Tory leader

    Almost twenty years later to the week after she made it, the current Tory leader, David Cameron, has repudiated one of Madame Thatcher's more notorious remarks that "there is no such thing as society". In a speech in Manchester yesterday (8 November) he declared: "there is such a thing as society -- it's just not the same thing as the state"" (Actually, this is something that we ourselves have always insisted on.)

    Cameron's whole speech was in fact a repudiation of the ideology of "free market liberalism" embraced by Thatcher and the Tories in the 1980s. No doubt his media advisers and focus groups had told him that this sort of thing no longer down very well these days and that, if he wants to have chance of winning the next election, he is going to have to come up with some other, less harsh message.

    He was in Manchester to launch the Conservative Co-operative Movement. "The co-op movement", he said, "has generally been associated with the political left. I think that's a shame", explaining:

    "because there have always been people on the centre-right concerned about the effects of capitalism on the social fabric. Men like Carlyle and Disraeli, following the tradition of Edmund Burke and Adam Smith himself, who recognised at the outset of the industrial revolution that profit was not the only organising principle of a healthy society".

    The free-marketers at the Adam Smith Institute must be cringing and "to the right of Genghis Khan" might be a more accurate description of the views of Thomas Carlyle than "centre right".

    Carlyle (who invented the term "the cash nexus") and Disraeli (who wrote a novel about there being "two nations" in England) were prominent members in the 1840s of a group of Tories who called themselves "Young England". They got a mention in the Communist Manifesto:

    "Owing to their historical position, it became the vocation of the aristocracies of France and England to write pamphlets against modern bourgeois society . . . In order to arouse sympathy, the aristocracy were obliged to lose sight, apparently, of their own interests, and to formulate their indictment against the bourgeoisie in the interest of the exploited working class alone. Thus the aristocracy took their revenge by singing lampoons on their new master, and whispering in his ears sinister prophecies of coming catastrophe . . . The aristocracy, in order to rally the people to them, waved the proletarian alms-bag in front for a banner. But the people, so often as it joined them, saw on their hindquarters the old feudal coats of arms, and deserted with loud and irreverent laughter. One section of the French Legitimists and 'Young England' exhibited this spectacle".

    No doubt, him being a Tory Toff that went to Eton, there is a feudal coat of arms on Cameron's hindquarters, but much more prominently displayed will be the words "Opportunist Professional Politician" -- which workers should equally greet with loud and irreverent laughter.


    Sunday, November 04, 2007

    1848,1956 and all that

    On this day in 1956 state capitalist Russia sought to reassert its authority in Hungary. Thousands of people were killed or injured as the world looked on. The UN belatedly and impotently asked the troops and tanks to be withdrawn in September 1957. Those crying for the right to self-determination then (as now) failed to heed history, and learn the lesson that this 'right' means no more than supporting an alternative ruling class.

    Indeed, nearly 160 years ago there was a revolt in Hungry to secure independence from Austria, one which was eventually crushed with the aid of Russian troops. There was too a resolution which, like those of the UN, was merely an expression of sympathy:

    "That in their present glorious struggle for liberty, the Hungarians command our highest admiration and have our warmest sympathy; that they have our prayers for their speedy triumph and final success; that the government of the United States should acknowledge the independence of Hungary as a nation of free men at the very earliest moment against which they are contending; that in the opinion of this meeting, the immediate acknowledgment of the independence of Hungary by our government is due from free men to their struggling brethren, to the general cause for republican liberty, and not violative of the just rights of any nation or people."

    The September 1849 meeting at which this resolution was passed had one Abraham Lincoln as chairman. He met Louis Kossuth, the exiled Hungarian leader, several times and in January 1852 wrote more on the right of national independence. Lincoln was of the opinion that " . . . it is the right of any people, sufficiently numerous for national independence, to throw off, to revolutionize, their existing form of government, and to establish such other in its stead as they may choose."

    The Socialist Standard of October 1957 continues this important history lesson:

    "As often happens, the leader of the Opposition, when he gets into power, can hardly recognise the things he has been saying. In 1861 Abraham Lincoln became President and then refused to acknowledge the right of the Southern States to secede (notwithstanding clause one of his 1852 resolution on Hungary). He waged the bloodiest war of a 100 years to prevent secession. Lincoln did not pretend, as his admirers sometimes pretend, that the war was being fought to destroy slavery. He saw, however, that in the world as it really is admission of the right of any American State to go its own way would have reduced powerful united America to a disunited medley of small and weak States. This is true of the world today, and will remain true so long as capitalism is allowed to continue. Capitalist trade and the maintenance of private property demand central government with powerful military forces and defensible frontiers, and against this the so-called "natural right" and "international principle" of self-determination are merely fanciful; along with UN protests, they have no deterrent effect on the world. The nationalist movements organized to gain independence are not striving for abstract principle, but for the power of a propertied class to operate capitalism within territory under their own control. High-flown talk about "principles of self-determination" may be an incidental aid in the struggle, but has no bearing on the conduct of affairs once independence has been won. There is, therefore, no real inconsistency in the action of one group achieving independence and then forcibly suppressing movement for independence on the part of another minority within the country. Britain, America, India, Pakistan, Ghana, Russia, and all the other national capitalist groups which flout it whenever important economic or strategic interests are involved, are all being true to the vital belief they have in common, belief in the necessities of capitalism."

    Friday, November 02, 2007

    Holocaust 2

    Ninety years ago today the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour declared his government's support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.

    The reason for this position and the Labour government's opposition thirty years later was the safeguarding of British Capitalists' commercial and industrial interests. Such interests sowed the seeds of future conflict long before the creation of Israel:

    ". . . In 1936 the Arab landowners inspired a revolt against the continued immigration of Jews into Palestine, foreseeing a threat to their interests in the existence of the highly industrial and commercial community that was growing up in their midst. Since then Britain, which had secured a mandate over Palestine in 1922, has been exercising a virtual reign of terror . . . " (Socialist Standard, June 1948)

    Zionism then as now added nothing positive:

    "We shall go to Palestine in order to become a majority there. If need be we shall take the country by force. If Palestine proves to be too small . . . her frontiers will have to be extended." (David Ben-Gurion as quoted in the Manchester Guardian, 3 July 1946)

    American capitalism's support took some by surprise and commentators at the time saw recognition of Israel as an election ploy by President Truman. But, the Socialist Standard (June 1948) regarded such reasoning as superficial:

    ". . . there is far more behind the action than electioneering propaganda. Jews and Arabs in Palestine, like the Greeks, the Italians and the Jugo-slavs, are pawns in a much greater game which involves oil and the struggle between Russia and Western Powers for economic domination . . . "

    The trail of death and destruction left by the state of Israel in its struggle for domination is nearly sixty years old. Such mass murder alongside an endless series of peace talks not to mention nauseating displays of nationalism and religious cant reveal all too clearly that the workers have yet to understand that capitalism causes war and so many other 'problems'. But what you may ask is the socialist solution to the ongoing Middle east conflict? An article titled 'Holocaust 2' from the Socialist Standard of September 1982 answers this question and others:

    "The campaign of genocide which is the current military policy of the State of Israel is a tragic reflection on the real face of nationalism. The mythical image of Zionism as a movement of pioneering, progressive, pious, peace-loving nation building has been more than exposed by the ruthless attempt to liquidate the city of Beirut "for reasons of national security".

    In early August the Canadian ambassador surveyed fifty-five separate areas of Beirut and declared that "this would make Berlin of 1944 look like a tea party". The International Red Cross has declared that "at least 80 per cent of the casualties are civilians." (Sunday Times, 8 August 1982). Our TV screens abound with pictures of families which have lost fathers, mothers and children, - victims of a senseless struggle against national ambition. In early August a block of flats in West Beirut was destroyed and nearly all of its civilian inhabitants died. Not for a long time has the horror of capitalist war been quiet so evident as in the Lebanon.

    As ever, when there is killing to be done, God's rep on earth is to be found sanctifying it. Just as God's Anglicans were blessing the British killers as they set off for the Falklands, so the British Chief Rabbi, in a interview in the Guardian on August 7, had to say that "to the extent that the only principle governing this action is one of self defence, or that of the security of the State, yes, Biblical or divine sanction can be claimed for it". One might as God's spokesman precisely how a soldier carrying a gun or a pilot dropping a bomb can be engaging in self-defence against unarmed children, but then, one might as well engage in such a seminar with the fairies at the bottom of the garden.

    The curse of nationalism is not new. Let it be clear that unlike certain anti-Zionists, socialists do not oppose the tunnel-vision mentality of nationalism only when it is Jewish. To us, the flag-waving, trigger-happy Zionists are no more ignorant and abhorrent than those who have swallowed the diversionary, nationalist message of the PLO. Socialists do not take sides in national conflicts because it is not our aim to support one or more competing capitalist or would-be capitalist factions, each of which seeks its own territories and exploitable populations. No socialist will ever fight to defend a border - we want to do away with the divisiveness of countries and states.

    But there is a bitter irony about Zionist nationalism. In Dachau, the site of the old Nazi murder camp, a permanent exhibition stands as testimony to the atrocities committed in modern times against millions of Jews. That the survivors of such persecution sought refuge in a nation of their own - a country which would never persecute or exterminate anyone and would be free from the perverse national chauvinism on which Nazism was based - is not difficult to understand. In Israel, and here in Britain, not a few Zionists are now beginning to ask themselves the question: "How can it be that the country created by the holocaust is now inflicting similar misery on the people who are just as defenceless as the Jews in Europe had been?" Some of them are blaming Begin. Others say that the PLO has pushed the Israeli government to such measures. The truth is that those who saw a solution in Zionist nationalism - in having their own laws, prisons, borders, army and weapons of destruction - were naive. Their form of nationalism is no less aggressive or bigoted than is ever the case under a system of society where the laws of the jungle are presented as being the rules of civilised conduct. Every nation's flag is dripping with the blood of its enemies; every ruling class pays for its power in other people's lives.

    Nationalism can never be a solution to the problems of oppression: it was not for the Jews; it would not be for the Palestinians. The problem is class, not national, racial or religious origins. As a class, workers have no country. The British do not own Britain, the majority of Israelis have no significant economic stake in Israel, the impoversished Arabs do not share their exploiters' national wealth. There are two classes in society: those who possess without producing and those who produce without possessing. Wars are fought over the interests of the capitalists. In the 1940's an aspirant Israeli ruling class, represented by such vicious thugs as the Stern gang (of which the present Israeli Foreign Minister was a member), used terrorist tactics to secure their goal. Having obtained power violently, who could have expected the the Israeli ruling class to have maintained power except through the continued use of violence? Israeli workers identify with the aims of their rulers - they see national identity as more important than their class identity with Arab and other workers. In this they are dangerously mistaken.

    The socialist solution to the Middle East conflict is not a piecemeal policy. We do not advocate re-drawing the border or political deals or the exchange of one (American-backed) ruling class for another (Russian-backed one). These amount to mere rearrangements of the capitalist furniture. Only when Israeli and Arab workers join the worldwide movement for a society without class ownership, nations or armies will the war finally cease.

    This is not a pious hope for the future. Workers are dying in Beirut and there is every sign that more will be killed. What is now a local war could turn into something rather bigger. Who will stop the killing once and for all - Habib, Begin or Arafat? To expect this to happen is like hoping for Brezhnev and Reagan to shake hands, make up and disarm. We leave such dreams to the Utopians who are fond of calling themselves Realists. For socialists, it is clear that if there is ever to be peace it is those who are the sitting targets of war who must actively pursue it."

    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    The American Patient

    Sicko. Written and directed by Michael Moore.

    What a devastating indictment of the US health care system this film is! Fifty million Americans have no health insurance, and eighteen thousand die because of this each year. The focus of the film, however, is on those who do have such insurance - and are therefore not the most badly off - but find it of little use when they need it most.

    The insurance is with health maintenance organisations or HMOs, though they should really be called wealth maintenance organisations, as they are most concerned about the wealth of their owners and top executives. People pay for health insurance or have it provided by their employer but, when it comes to the crunch and they fall ill or have an accident, the HMO will try every trick in the book to avoid paying up. Surgical procedures may be categorised as experimental and therefore not covered, or people may be denied treatment because they did not disclose some prior medical condition or even failed to diagnose it themselves.

    It is the individual cases Moore presents that give the film its impact. One child died because the HMO insisted she be treated in one of their own establishments rather than the hospital that the ambulance had taken her to. A man who had lost the tips of two fingers in an accident with a saw had to choose which one should be replaced, as he could not afford both. A sick and disoriented woman was dumped in the street by the hospital when she could not pay her bills.

    Moore contrasts the American system with those in Canada, Cuba, France and the UK. He makes great play with the fact that the cashier in an NHS hospital doesn't receive payments from patients but instead pays out, reimbursing some of them for their travel expenses. The original NHS idea of free treatment is trotted out, courtesy of Tony Benn, but disappointingly there is no discussion of the extent to which it no longer applies. Further, there's little if any investigation of the real quality of health treatment in these countries.

    All in all, though, this is a forceful attack on the idea that medical treatment should be based on considerations of profit. And just before the end comes a refreshing thought, that society should be more concerned with 'we' than with 'me'.


    Saturday, October 27, 2007

    The Communications Counter-Revolution

    As global media have developed, enabling words and images to be conveyed to millions of people in a matter of seconds, the words used have become increasingly more sloganised and contrived to delude, the imagery more tranquillising in its banality and stupefying in its detachment from historical context. As the world becomes a global village, linked by newly accessible technologies from the mobile phone to the lnternet, the most powerful use of these technologies has tended to promote the envelopment of mass consciousness by corporate ideology.

    As the symbols of constitutional democracy come to dominate the globe, seemingly confirmed by newly acquired voting powers from Moscow to Soweto to West Lothian, the empowerment of the ballot is insidiously undermined by the neo-feudal absolutism of press barons and media moguls: the new stratum of the ruling class which controls the dogma of the news agenda. Rupert Murdoch's News International, to exemplify the point by reference to the biggest and baddest, has global assets of $15 billion and now controls the major newspapers in Britain and Australia, the biggest news broadcast network in the USA and by far the most significant private media organisation in Asia.

    As global literacy rates increase, and huge hopes are placed upon the potentiality of science as a method of liberation from disease and diminished opportunities, the lexicon of the communications industry has converged with the language of the manipulative advertising industry, which has long denuded language of depth or integrity and prostituted speakers and writers in the service of the crude targets of the market.

    The consequence of all this is a public which is increasingly bemused by and untrusting of the channels of mass communication; which finds itself the recipient of a one-way conversation, presented as communication; which has come to regard truth as being either the monopoly of a mediating elite or else so relative that nothing can be really true; which has become so sound bitten by political messages delivered to fit the crass measurements of the tabloid headline that enthusiasm for such political babble has become as perverse as commitment to a brand of baked beans or loyalty to a fast-food chain.

    For most people the world of politics (for, politics seems indeed to inhabit a separate, remote and misty planet) seems terribly drab and empty and meaningless and alienating and dishonest. Politicians are never useful, except as pawns who might drive away the even more useless. Political activity is seen as an obsession for the disturbed: the rule-bound, the myopic, the ones who get their kicks from power games. Politics is an irritation or a threat, but never a resource of strength or hope.

    The language of politics, as it has become compressed to the point of sounding half like gibberish and half like fraud, is not taken very seriously except by those who deal in its currency and have come to realise that it is a code of impotence reflecting the timidity of statecraft before economic powers which operate only in the global language of numbers.

    Soundbite culture

    Why has the culture of the soundbite arisen? Firstly, because political leaders have come to realise, albeit gradually and with a conspicuous absence of humility, that they can lead nobody anywhere. The market leads; they follow. To dance to the tune of capital entails a minimum of chorographical creativity and to sing to the tune calls less for the oratory of Cicero than the verbal banality of Saatchi or Mandelson.

    Secondly, because ideas have become detached from political life. What George Bush called 'The Vision Thing' was a recognition of what he lacked, not what he had. The words needed to convey the contemporary political visions of the future. fantasies of myopia as they are, are few and uninspiring. "Gahd Bless America !" "New Labour; New Britain"; "One Europe; one people"; The Lady's Not for Turning"; "Things Go Better With Coke"? lt is a world led by second rate advertising copywriters.

    When you have nothing to say there is much to be said for saying nothing. But in order for the political mime-show to become audible, for the sake of putting background noise, however disjointed, to the increasingly dominating imagery of the photo-opportunity, something, however brief and pointless, must be uttered.

    Thirdly, there is a belief amongst those who produce the media and design the news, that the public is incorrigibly stupid, happy only when offered infantile distractions from reality and capable of taking in only the most simplistic and compressed smidgen of sound before rubbing our eyes and demanding an appointment with the Page Three girls. The public are regarded as half-baked cretins. The workers are witless and best offered football reports and Royal fairy stones: the tabloid valium for the dispossessed.

    And because the news producers worry that our attention spans will collapse under the strain of more than a few minutes of political discussion, they ensure that such unmanageable bites of sustained argument never reach us. In the 1964 General Election— first in which the major political parties prepared themselves for a TV campaign—the average excerpt from a political speech on the television news was eighty-seven seconds. These days an eighty-seven second excerpt is unheard of. By the 1979 election, the median length of speech extracts on the BBC News was 45 seconds and on ITN 25 seconds. In the 1992 election the average length was heard was down to 18 seconds. In the last US presidential campaign no contender was quoted for more than 7 seconds, except during the deadly boring presidential debates in which they recited their pre-rehearsed soundbites with the conviction of a waitress in an American restaurant recounting you the day's specials on the menu.

    The problem is not, of course, simply people want to hear politicians for more than twenty seconds. Fifteen seconds of John Major felt like a lifetime in a cell with him. The media producers are quite right: too much of this makes our heads ache and we run out into the street committing road rage. Faced with such intellectual vacuity and emptiness of vision there is much to be said for the most extreme brevity. The problem is quite simply that the most extreme brevity is fine when you are contrasting Coke with Pepsi or advertising baked beans which don't make you fart or asking if you prefer Oasis or Blur, but it is inimical to and destructive of the kind of reasoned, scientific judgement required from people who are called upon to make serious democratic choices.

    No time for reason

    Reason—the capacity to exercise our unique human capacity to organise our thoughts—to remember—to envisage and plan—to think and speak conceptually—to share thought through words—to use words to differentiate the self from the outer world and experience from fantasy— these hugely potent, definingly human, boundlessly creative forces which comprise reason will only wither and die if they are constrained by the inane language and crass imagery which sells jelly babies and New Labour.

    To exercise reason takes time. This need for time has always been a problem for the vast majority because, under capitalism it is precisely the theft of our time which leaves us exploited and unfree and weary. So, there is a paradox: to understand why we are weary, unfree and exploited we need the time to contemplate the cause of exploitation and the hope for freedom. For the Leninists and the social-democratic reformists the problem was easily addressed: the nature of life for the majority would never permit the luxury of such reasoned contemplation, so mass socialist consciousness could never occur. The wearied workers must be led or left to rot.

    For socialists, who refused to accept that authoritarian logic, the only basis for our claim that workers could and would understand the case for a new way of organising society, was that given the time to think and make sense of experience, understanding would combine with desire to create an enlightened embrace of the socialist alternative. Give people time to think and to speak and to argue and they cannot but see it as we have seen it.

    But if time itself is to be sapped away by a culture of hurried messages and commercial jingles, the fascistic anthems of the marketplace, then what hope is there for reason' If language itself, in an Orwellian rape of meaning and sequential logic, becomes not a means to know more but a weapon in the armoury of those who would prefer us to know less, then reason itself falls victim to a vandalising culture which dehumanises those left to dwell in the Brave New World of the Sun and the organisation of mass stupidity. We would be abandoned to a cultural wilderness of endless Happy Hours but no happiness, punch-drunk street parties and feudal funeral processions as repositories for the deeply repressed miseries of the bewildered; elections and referendums with no issues and no discussion. This is the dystopian future of a society bereft of reason.

    The threat of a slide to such an historical catastrophe is a menace to the reason which makes us human and to the socialist vision which could enable us to live humanely. And we do face such a threat. That is why we are unmistakably in the midst of a profound crisis of communication. Not only is it the case that the means of communication do not belong to us—in a world where very little belongs to us that is worth much that is hardly a revelation. But these channels of communication are being used against us. They are The Enemy Within, which can brand strikers as The Enemy Within and socialists as loonies, utopians and the merely irrelevant. It is as well to know our enemy, for struggle for the tools and language of communication has become in the course of the twentieth century the predominant battle-ground within which the shape of our social future will be contested.

    The war waged by the ruling class to silence the majority is not a new one, even though it has too often been neglected by liberal historians who prefer to bathe in the still waters of liberal ideology. The battle to stifle the voices of the working class is a long and bloody one, and in many parts of the world it still goes on leaving the silenced, the maimed, the tortured and the butchered corpses in its wake. But in Britain and the so-called capitalist democracies the war against the right of workers to speak has changed. The strategy now is to tolerate 'free speech' and then drown it out with the megaphones of distraction and deceit. What we are offered is a democracy in which everyone has a right to be ignored, but only the rich and powerful can insist upon being heard.

    Linguistic nihilism

    What kind of intellectual climate is it that is allowing the communication of hope and the vivacity of human creativity to become so neglected? The answer lies in the current mood of counter-enlightenment which has come to dominate Western thought. The arid atmosphere of what has come to be known as postmodernism is precisely the environment within which the banalities of the soundbite and the soft-focus lens can triumph over the long-learned lessons of the Age of Reason. With their disdain for rational explanations the postmodernists argue that no cause is more important in producing an effect than any other. There is no rational analysis of history; there are no social systems; there can be nothing which is reducible to the clarity of scientific transparency.

    So, within this hopelessly nihilistic chain of postmodernist discourse, everything is as meaningful as it is meaningless; rationality stands on a par with irrationality; no judgement must be prioritised over any other— genocide, death camps, avoidable mass starvation, the torture of political prisoners. These, according to the postmodernists, are all merely fragmented and inexplicable phenomena which operate each in their own separate world of autonomous values. So, if nothing general can be said, language becomes diminished as a civilising force. Words can mean anything or nothing or both. The postmodernists have celebrated the so-called Death of History: the death, in short, of that fundamentally liberating Age of Reason project, to which Marx contributed so greatly, to transform history from a passive force, in which humans are mere puppets, to a creative force in which our comprehension of the process allows us to actively direct the process of social movement. For the postmodernists all of this was ultra optimism and must now be substituted by an inert, sullen, complacent pact with the present.

    This veritable revolt against the Enlightenment derides scientific logic and the quest for the dialectical interrogation of complexity and surrenders abjectly to the lunatic's logic of the marketplace and its attendant disorders. It gives rise to a notion of politics as being essentially about slogans rather than substance. For, if you really believe that there can be no substantial intervention in the making of history, what else is there to do but stand on the sidelines and pretend that your mandate is to carry out whatever happens to be taking place already?

    At its worst, this is the climate in which the dark clouds of fascism can form. But not necessarily fascism in jackboots with Nuremberg rallies. It was hard to ignore a fascistic element within the mass hysteria which followed upon the recent death of a Princess. Such mass manipulation of human feeling and well-organised collective agonising of the repressed is precisely the kind of perverse waste of human emotion and energy made permissible in a society which has come to disdain popular reason.

    The politics of reasoned thought requires the capacity to distinguish between the trivial inconsequences of our enemies and the historically vital events out of which history makes us and we can make history. It requires a rejection of the linguistic nihilism of contemporary journalism which asserts like Humpty Dumpty that words can mean whatever a headline writer wants them to mean. It requires a respect for scientific logic which considers causes and effects rather than diminishing everything to the random agenda of "News Just In".

    Capitalism, because it would perish by the force of mass intelligence if enough people thought about it, cannot create an environment conducive to intelligent reflection. Indeed, the more it goes on, the more it will tolerate more elaborate and sophisticated diversions from reasoned thought. And the more socialists will need to warn against those diversions and remind their fellow human beings:

    Your brain is the greatest weapon you possess; your ability to communicate is your tool of liberation; thinking, speaking and organising democratically and intelligently you are a force that cannot be defeated by the babble of a worn-out social system.

    Socialist Standard December 1997 (author: S.Coleman)

    Thursday, October 25, 2007

    "The Dead Russians Society"

    Depending which set of dates you go by,here is a classic article about the leftists who will be celebrating 90 years since the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia. - Gray

    Anyone want to buy a dozen statues of Lenin? The recent recession in the Lenin—statue works is terminal. Now that Sir Nikolai Ceauceascu and his mates have bitten the dust or headed off to their holiday homes in North Korea, only a few fossilised Chinese and Cuban academics are still paid to sing the praises of dead Russians.

    In the 1920s Lenin—worship was all the rage. Naive leftists from Tottenham to Turin would dutifully repeat the Bolshevik liturgy to whoever could be persuaded to listen. Russia, it was said, had had the first ever socialist revolution. It was led by Lenin who had translated Marx’s theories into practice. If you wanted to see socialism in all its living glory, look no further than the centralised hell—holes of the Kremlin—ruled state dictatorships. That was "the line". Here was the leading Labour politician, George Lansbury, returning from Moscow as a born—again Bolshevik:

    In my judgement, no set of men and women responsible for a revolution ever made fewer mistakes or carried their revolution through with less interference with the rights of individuals, or with less terrorism and destruction, than the men in control in Russia.
    (What I Saw In Russia, p. xii, 1920).

    Lenin, wrote Lansbury, exhibited "devotion to the cause of humanity" and Trotsky, whom he never even met, was said to be "one of the greatest leaders of men ever." This elevation of demagogic Russian history—makers was one of the most sickening characteristics of the ecstasies with which the deluded praised their gods. Of course, you had to be up with the fashions. One year Trotsky was your main man and Bukharin on historical materialism was second to none; a little later Trotsky was a viper and Stalin repaid Bukharin’s servility by liquidating him.

    In the 197Os the present writer went to a "Marxist Conference" where sects prepared to become vanguards while the world outside listened to Gary Glitter and wore flowery ties. It was a day—long event and a conveyor belt of gesticulating gurus were taking turns explaining how the storming of the Winter Palace by the war— weary Russian peasants (known in leftist circies as the brave proletarian masses) could be reproduced in Manchester if only the Trots could fiddle enough votes at the forthcoming regional NALGO conference. One speaker accused another of being a Stalinist. A woman selling papers at the door told a rival paper—seller that he was clearly unfamiliar with Preobrazhensky, at which he retaliated devilishly with the wounding observation that she had clearly more in common with Zinoviev and Kamenev than Lenin. I pointed out that she had a voice not unlike Cilla Black's and was instantly dismissed as a Menshevik stooge. Half a century after the Bolshevik coup and even the vocabularly of abuse was stale Russian.

    Sterile dogma

    As long as the Leninist Empire remained, the blood—flow into this queer movement of dead—Russian worshippers did not cease. Cheap editions of Lenin’s anti—socialist speeches and writings rolled off Moscow printing presses like Bibles from the Catholic Truth Society. Now that it has become apparent that the victims of state capitalism were the first to want to cast off religious Leninism, only the most entrenched believers can carry on the faith. The present writer paid his annual visit to the Hampstead Morning Star bazaar at the end of last summer. It is always a good place to pick up some cheap editions of long—wanted volumes. But last year, with the Berlin Wall gone, the August coup failed and "Communist" economists busy planning the free market, there was something unusually bizarre about the bazaar.

    Old women sitting behind stalls muttered about how Gorbachev would see them through and a man of eighty boasted that he was a hundred years before his time and looked forward to the time when starving East Germans would turn to Lenin and repent for their disaffection. An old Stalinist addressed a young Morning Star reader (perhaps the young Morning Star reader) about how he had visited collective farms in Bulgaria and never seen such happiness in his life. Looking around the bazaar, the cemetry of lost dreams, it was easy to see that even ignorance is not always bliss. Their god had died. A bust of Lenin was on sale for fifty pence; I bought it to put next to the burglar alarm and the flick—knife that are being carefully preserved for the Museum of Capitalist Madness that needs to be set up once we have a socialist world.

    The bizarre, fetishised attachments of geriatric Bolshevik dogmatists need not detain us. They will die. and with them their illusions. Nobody will be selling Soviet Weekly in the year 2000: in fact, the paper no longer exists and never will again. But what of young Leninists? Why young Leninists? What can it be that makes any one with genuine hatred for capitalism and a desire for social transformation still adhere to these sterile dogmas?

    Part of the answer lies in the development of a mythology about the Russian revolution: wishful belief has replaced verifiable history and the end—result is a statement like this one, in a leaflet handed out by the International Communist Current: "October was a revolution in the real sense of the term: the overthrow of one class by another". Of which class by which? In the Russia of 1917 the vast majority of the population were illiterate peasants who wanted peace, land and bread. They wanted property society, not socialism. The Bolsheviks pandered to these non—socialist millions, and they won acquiescence from the politically unconscious workers. especially after the Kornilov coup of August 1917. But when the Constituent Assembly elections came in 1918 a majority of Russian workers and peasants did not vote for the Bolsheviks who, regardless of the majority will, took dictatorial state power.

    Undemocratic arrogance

    In a remarkably absurd eighty—page article in the SWP's International Socialism (Autumn 1991), John Rees attempts to defend the tactics of the Leninist dictators over the proletariat. Rees and the SWP realise that everything they stand for depends upon the validity of the strategy adopted by the Dead Russians of 1917. Rees, following Lenin, argues that the problem facing the Bolshevik revolution was the failure of the workers in the rest of Europe to follow the Bolshevik lead. This failure is explained thus:

    What was lacking in these revolutionary upheavals was not the objective European—wide crisis. Neither was it the willingness of workers to struggle for power. What was lacking was a leadership of sufficient clarity and an organisation with a core of sufficiently experienced members to successfully lead these movements to power.
    (p. 9. Our emphasis).

    So, all across Europe in 1917 the workers were rëady for socialist revolution, but what they needed, says this SWP leader, were a gang of good leaders— like Lenin and Trotsky, like Rees and the SWP. If only they were there at the time. In the course of this defence Rees justifies the Red Terror of the Cheka and the GPU, supports the massacre of the sailors at Kronstadt who wanted an end to Bolshevik totalitarianism within the soviets ("Had the Kronstadters demands for soviets without parties been realised théy would have expressed the ferocious, elemental hostility of the peasants to the Bolsheviks" (p. 63)) and argues the case for the 1921 ban on parties dissenting from the leadership on the grounds that "the Workers Opposition’s plans could only have led to a disintegration of the regime" (p. 67). Such explicit support for such disgustingly undemocratic politics should he enough to dismiss the SWP from the minds of anyone whose conception of socialism is not perverted by deeply authoritarian beliefs.

    Rees defends most ot the Bolshevik actions against the workers (his article is entitled "In Defence of October", after all — even though the revolution was in November), but even he will not openly defend the Bolshevik closure of the Constituent Assembly because they lost the election. Instead, historical myth is invoked and we are told that the Bolsheviks really won the 1918 election, but the results did not reflect this. Other Leninists are rather less coy about the crushing of the elected Assembly by the Bolsheviks: the ICC’s World Revolution (November 199l) argues that the soviets, not the Bolsheviks, closed down the Assembly and were right to do so because the parties elecied to sit in it would not represent the working class. Apart from the historical fact that the Bolsheviks were the ones who smashed the Assembly by order of their own Central Committee, the ICC must be congratulated for their honesty: if you don’t trust the views of the workers at the ballot box you tell the workers to take a running jump. This is clasical Leninist undemocratic arrogance.

    What future can there be for this subworld of 1917—set Russian fantasies? For how much longer will gurus like Tony Cliff draw in bewildered young workers, attracted to the notion of socialist politics by real experiences under real capitalism, to listen to obsolete orations about the ten days which shook the world and put world socialism back for a century? How much longer can Lenin and Trotsky exercise a sort of mystical influence upon people searching for a way into the creation of a new social system and not a tour of the ruins of failed ideologies?

    The most unsuccessful merchant in the modern world must surely be the jerk standing in Red Square selling copies of What Is to Be Done?, the handbook for professional authoritarian revolution—wreckers. The most foolish political thinkers around now must be those who imagine for one moment that they can build a revolution upon the rotting corpses and stale rhetoric of long—dead Russian leaders. The Socialist Party is hostile to all defenders of capitalism, but none more than those who preserve capitalism in the name of fighting for socialism. They are not only crazy, they are dangerous.

    (S.COLEMAN, Socialist Standard July 1992)

    Further reading:

    Russia 1917-67 (a classic SPGB pamphlet)

    The Revolution in Russia - where it fails (Socialist Standard, August 1918)

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    On the brink

    In an earlier posting titled 'Che's nuclear winter or a Socialist Summer?' reference was made to the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. This was just one of many such crises that year. You do not need to be a Socialist to realise that war or the threat of war is endemic to the capitalist system. This is true today as it was, for example, forty five (or ninety) years ago. Similarly, what we said then about war remains valid:

    "...Cuba has simmered down for a while and maybe will move out of the headlines altogether, as the major capitalist powers find their attention diverted elsewhere. Who amongst us anyway would have risked a wager even six months ago that Castro's Land would be the focal point in a crisis which edged the capitalist world perilously close to another horror?

    And now there is India's fight with China. This again is in a part of the world which has only recently become big news, as Capitalist China pushes her borders outwards in pursuit of her expansionist aims. She has been squabbling for some time over certain slices of Indian border territory and negotiations have dragged wearily on, but force is the final arbiter in the clash of opposing interests, as we have pointed out on many occasions.

    The Indian affair highlights perhaps the most tragic irony of all, that of poverty stricken workers literally running to join the Indian Army in defence of their masters' interests and in ignorance of their own. No need for conscription, said Mr. Nehru; his government could take its pick from millions of volunteers. But ignorance is not something peculiar to Indian or Chinese workers, or people in "backward" countries alone. It is a failing common to workers the world over, even though many of them may not join the army quite so enthusiastically as their Indian brothers.

    Yet sooner or later ignorance will have to yield to the growth of Socialist knowledge and the realisation that war is not just a nasty accident but has its roots in the private property basis of modern society. It is an ever present menace so long as capitalism survives. The sordid squabbles over markets, trade routes and other considerations, give way eventually to armed conflict, but no working class interest is involved, and no social problem is solved by fighting. When each war is over, all that can be said is that countless workers have died to preserve the conditions for another holocaust later on. Someone once said that the next war only really begins where the last one ends. We could not agree more." (Socialist Standard, December 1962)

    China and Capitalism

    Readers of today's Independent can be forgiven if they get confused:

    In the days of Chairman Mao, capitalists were "counterrevolutionaries" and "poisonous weeds", but China's Communist Party has ceded some ground of late to "capitalist running dogs" and now lists people like Chen Ailian, a sharp-suited entrepreneur, among the ranks of cadres.


    The new Politburo, which is expected to cede some of its older blood for the younger allies of leader Hu Jintao, will run a different brand of Communist Party to the group of 13 ideologues who gathered in a draughty hall in Shanghai for the first congress in 1921. Back then, there were just 60 Communists in China – now there are 73 million.

    In her old life, before she bought the Roller, Chen drove a truck, but now she is chairwoman of Wanfeng Auto Holding Group – the largest manufacturer of aluminium alloy wheels in Asia and one of the top 50 auto parts suppliers in China. "Like workers, farmers, intellectuals, cadres and soldiers, private entrepreneurs are also builders of socialism with Chinese characteristics," said the 49-year-old, who represents the private sector in the booming province of Zhejiang.

    The fiery rhetoric rings uncannily similar to the dictums of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, but her story is a parable of new China.

    She borrowed £32,000 and rented a factory, then built her business up until her company, based in her home town of Shaoxing, was supplying components to the likes of Ford, Toyota, and GM. Chinese factories built 8.5 million cars last year, making it the world's biggest manufacturer and the third-biggest car buyer.

    Private entrepreneurs were long excluded from the Communist Party, but now they are recognised for their contribution to the economy. Last year 1,554 capitalists joined the party, a small but significant number in terms of their influence. The rise of the stock market and years of double-digit economic growth have given rise to a new entrepreneur class and China's 345,000 dollar millionaires are more than welcome into the ranks of the party.

    The simple fact is the Chinese Revolution in 1949 saw the development of state capitalism, not the establishment of socialism, under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship. The CCP developed into a ruling class.

    What has changed through the decades is the way the Chinese ruling class has been recruited as well as more liberalisation of the capitalist system there.

    The "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is balogney. It's capitalism pure and simple - the word "socialism" is being misused by a ruling class to hide the exploitation of the Chinese working class.

    But heck, the media never had problems calling the economic system in China "Capitalist" yet still calling the country "Communist" the very next breath.

    A clearer example of Doublethink if ever there was.

    Saturday, October 20, 2007

    The Class Society

    Class means alot to the apologists for capitalism. They are very keen to say it doesn't exist. If the slaves don't think they are slaves then they won't revolt.

    No classes is the aim of the socialist. In capitalism, classes mean a minority own the means of living and live in unearned luxury, all at the expense of the non-owning, exploited, majority of wage slaves. A truly classless society is when the means of living are held in common and used to meet human need.

    Class society is the social ill at the heart of problems.

    The Guardian reports today on class society.

    Friday, October 19, 2007

    Che's nuclear winter or a Socialist summer?

    Will we need to explain for another forty years that Che Guevara was as Socialist as the state capitalist DPRK is democratic? Reading assorted articles on the anniversary of his murder in 1967 has been a frustrating experience. The Economist, for example, (October 13th 2007) describes him as "..a ruthless and dogmatic Marxist, who stood not for liberation but for a new tyranny." Replace Marxist with Maoist and that quotation would not look out of place in the Socialist Standard. But The Economist does make an interesting aside: "In Cuba, he is the patron saint: at school, every child must repeat each morning, "We will be like Che." In a similiar Orwellian fashion students in Venezuela chant Che's "fatherland, socialism or death." Moving swiftly on, The Independent (6 October 2007) has "two prominent thinkers", George Galloway and Johann Hari (!?), debating "should Che be an Icon?" George's contribution is as stimulating as his appearance on UK national television in a black leotard. By way of contrast, Johann the columnist whose other offerings include "taxing the wealthy is the best way to erode inequality" (fundamentally flawed and sleep inducing) provides a tour de force leading up to him quoting Che one year after the Cuban missile crisis: "the people {of Cuba] you see today tell you that even if they should disappear from the face of the earth because of an atomic war is unleashed in their names...they will feel completely happy and fulfilled"!

    Unbelievable but true - rather like finding George and Johann in your bed! But they, as well as those Hari insists on calling communist, are political bedfellows who seek only to reform capitalism. A clear explanation of where Che went wrong and why a Socialist revolution is necessary is given below.

    "...On one level socialists can sympathise with the life of Guevara; from his travels he became aware of the poverty and oppression of the majority of the people in Latin America. This made him a social critic and he was determined to do his part to change society. Undoubtedly the Cuban revolution in which Guevara played a major role brought some initial benefits to the people of the island. The worst forms of worker exploitation (widespread prostitution, the plight of landless labourers) were ended and advances in health and education were tremendous by comparable standards. But side-by-side with this went political oppression; the independent press was closed down, trade unions became an adjunct to the state, there was imprisonment and sometimes execution of political dissidents. Workers were expected to put in long hours in dangerous conditions to satisfy Castro's various industrial schemes. In a further parallel with Stalin these dictatorial measures were always justified by reference to an external threat. More recently over the past ten years with the ending of Soviet aid, the fate of the Cuban workers has worsened considerably under the Beijing-like gerontocracy of the Havana leadership. In the popular mind Che Guevara is never linked with this repressive state apparatus though he was an important element in its construction. Ironically too, while Guevara has always in the west been associated with the libertarian "student counter-culture", the regime of which he was a member carried out a severe and ultimately fruitless campaign against western pop music, "decadence" and homosexuality. In fact gay people have been treated particularly harshly in Cuba.

    Confusion about the basis on which society is organised meant that Guevara was destined to become part of a doomed experiment in social change. That this same process has repeatedly happened to so many reformers is of immense frustration to socialists. We have a number of reasons for opposing the politics espoused by Che Guevara.We would point to the mistaken Leninist equating of capitalism with imperialism which as in so many other cases inevitably led down the blind alley of nationalism. A good illustration of this is that for the past thirty years in Cuba the 19th century patriotic figure of Marti has been invoked by the establishment as often as Marx.

    Another disagreement lies in seeing military action by the self-chosen few as the force to change society. Socialists are not pacifists and have genuine sympathy for those fighting political dictatorship but we recognise that the only meaningful translation that can occur in society is when the majority of people on a world-wide basis make a conscious voluntary decision to re-organise their lives and change the system that they live under. At the heart of our difference with Guevara was his belief that an equal wages society would be the spring to a socialist summer. The essence of socialism is a moneyless society; the break with using a means of exchange must be distinct and irrevocable. Equal wages and labour vouchers must inevitably lead back rather than forward as they are based on, and assume, capitalist consciousness continuing. Denouncing Che with the easy benefit of hindsight would be facile. Socialists are keen to analyse and discuss such people's lives for the lessons to be learnt. We understand that historical figures like Guevara, Lenin, Garibaldi and Connolly cannot be wholly responsible for the societies that arose in their wake. Such an approach overestimates the role of the individual as opposed to the political/economic/cultural factors prevailing at the time. Hindsight does show us though that without a proper understanding of the material basis of society any attempts at social change, no matter how initially laudable they may be, will certainly fail." (Socialist Standard, April 1996)

    Pie In The Sky When You Die

    "Death is not the end and soldiers need to be spiritually prepared for war, according to the head of the British army" (Times, 18 October).

    The Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, was reported as saying:

    "In my business, asking people to risk their lives is part of the job, but doing so without giving them the chance to understand that there is a second life after death is something of a betrayal".

    Actually, it's the other way round. It's a con to tell soldiers sent into battle possibly to die that, if they do, there's a better life in the skies (or, perhaps, a worse one down below). It's what Al Qaeda tell their suicide bombers too. They think they go to Muslim heaven for their second life. Is this the same heaven that Sir Richard tells his soldiers they will go to? And what about any of his soldiers who might be Hindus or Buddhists, their second -- or third, or fourth, or whatever -- life, is it to be recycled as another human or maybe as an animal or an insect? And where do his Jewish soldiers end up?

    The sad truth is that all of the evidence suggests that we only have one life -- the one we now have -- and that when we die that's it. It's all over. So it doesn't make sense to throw it away dying to secure oil resources or trade routes or investment outlets for a ruling capitalist class. But it does make sense for the ruling class to tell those who fight for it that "death is not the end".

    We are not saying that General Dannatt is a cynic. He's not. He actually believes what he said. But that's just as worrying: a person with such an irrational view as head of a killing machine.

    And some people wonder why we in the Socialist Party take a hard line on religion.


    Wednesday, October 17, 2007

    Another Leader Falls

    The men in grey suits take care that their message in not misunderstood and after they had been in touch with Sir Walter Menzies Campbell Privy Counsellor, Chancellor of St. Andrews University, MP, CBE, QC he felt the only course open to him was to compose a curt letter of resignation as Liberal leader and, in a huff, get on the first flight back to Edinburgh, indicating that no one should waste their time chasing him because he would not be holding any press conference or make any further comment.

    As he is a politician nobody was expected to take that seriously so it was not a surprise that the very next day he allowed himself to be interviewed at his posh home, under the chandelier in a room described by one correspondent as having walls decorated in “ruling class red”. In fact Campbell’s resignation was itself a complete reversal of his most recent declaration in the matter: for example on the day before he assured his party’s eastern regional conference that he considered himself to have the “the energy, the ideas and the determination to lead the party into the next election and beyond”. He might also have offered, as another qualification, that he was untroubled by any doubts about being inconsistent.

    Much the same could be said about two of the likely candidates to succeed to the leadership. Nick Clegg might have stood when Charles Kennedy was ousted last year but he held back in favour of Campbell – which did not deter him from going on to undermine Campbell by letting it be known at this year’s party conference that he was ready to stand “in the future” – which came rather sooner than had been expected. Chris Huhne is Clegg’s bitter rival – which began when Huhne persuaded Clegg not to contest the succession to Kennedy by assuring Campbell of his support and then himself standing, running a close second to Campbell. Both of these candidates are a lot younger than Campbell, who fumes that he is “irritated” by the media concentration on his age, which he says is only a “temporary condition” – whatever he means by that. It seems to have escaped him that any preoccupation with youth as energising and progressive stems from its elevation into the kind of lucrative, ever regenerating, market so exciting to capitalism’s commodity based structure. Whatever “irritation” Campbell may feel will be familiar to the many workers who are condemned to a deeper level of poverty through being classified as unemployable through age, accentuated by the reduction of their hoped-for pension on the grounds of their employers’ financial priorities.

    As Campbell stormed off into the sulky skies, his friends and enemies were in competition to embellish the distasteful episode with abject descriptions of him: “a man of honesty, decency and integrity…unique integrity and courage” It was as if they needed to forget his part in the execution of Charles Kennedy, enthusiastic enough to earn him the soubriquet “Ming the Merciless”. The episode illuminated how the political parties of capitalism owe their nature to the very style of the system, so that they purvey a cynicism born of inherent stress and exclusion, making a contradiction of the words Liberal and Democratic.